Tag Archives: Service

Gleanings from a Book: “The Suitcase” by Jane G. Meyer

Orthodox Christian author Jane G. Meyer has written a new picture book called “The Suitcase: a Story about Giving.” The book was illustrated by Chiara Pasqualotto. It is the story of Thomas, a boy who may be autistic but does not let his challenges keep him from being an active participant – even a leader – in entering the Kingdom of God while bringing others with him. Any reader, regardless of age, will be challenged to find ways to make God’s Kingdom happen in the world around them after meeting Thomas through this book.

Here is a brief summary and review of the book:

Thomas is like clockwork. He is so precise with his preferred activities that you can almost predict what he will do each day. So, when he randomly shows up at the family supper table one night with a suitcase, declaring that he intends to leave for the Kingdom of Heaven, it catches everyone’s attention, for this is far from his routine! With his family’s love and support, Thomas shares his plan, showing his family (and the reader) each item that he has packed and explaining why he has packed it. As he does so, Thomas unknowingly reveals how carefully he has been paying attention to teachings about the Faith, and unveils his commitment to following Christ, even though it means stepping away from his beloved routines.

The colorful watercolor illustrations in this picture book are gently realistic. They invite the reader to feel comfortable in Thomas’ home and with his family. There is just enough detail to illustrate the story in an orderly manner, just as Thomas likes his world to be organized. (There is also just enough missing in each illustration to leave room for the reader’s imagination, inciting curiosity.)

“The Suitcase” is full of scriptural references. The reader can’t help but try to make connections: What was Thomas thinking about when he packed this item? Where did he hear about that one? Where can I learn more about it?!? Parents and teachers will find in “The Suitcase” more than just a lovely story. They will find in it an opportunity to delve into the scriptures with their children, to ensure that they know the source of each of the contents in Thomas’ wonderful suitcase.

Readers of all ages will be challenged to think beyond their own routines, consider what they should be “packing” in their own suitcase, and then reach out into the Kingdom of Heaven by finding ways to love and serve all those around them. The resource page at the end offers an excellent place to begin!

“The Suitcase” will be a welcome addition to any Orthodox Christian family’s library. It offers a sweet story as well as many opportunities to learn from the scriptures. Thomas’ preferences of routine and order can give families the opportunity to discuss autism and the challenges that people with autism face (especially if the family does not have a family member or friend living with autism). The story also gives its readers a chance to learn from Thomas’ determination to step outside of his comfort zone, and makes each reader think about how to do likewise in order to attain (and extend) the Kingdom of God in his/her own life!

Note: the author of this review was given a reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. Visit http://www.paracletepress.com/Products/7763/the-suitcase.aspx to order your own copy of the book.

 

Here are ideas of ways to learn together as a family after reading this wonderful book:
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Read author Jane G. Meyer’s take on “The Suitcase,” including why she wrote the book, here: http://www.janegmeyer.com/books/the-suitcase/

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Take time to investigate the scripture passages that are alluded to in “The Suitcase.” You could look them up and read them all at once, or read and study them one at a time with your family after reading the book together. Scriptural allusions include:

Feeding the hungry (Matthew 25:35)

Clothing the naked (Matthew 25:36)

Giving to those in need (Deuteronomy 15:11)

Being a good servant (Matthew 25:21)

Praying for the world (James 5:16)

Having Faith like a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32; 17:20)

Talking less and listening more (James 1:19)

Entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2)

Keeping ourselves pure (James 1:27)

Building things if God tells us to do so (Genesis 6:14-22)

The pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46)

The hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44)

Submitting to others (for example, allowing children to lead us) (Ephesians 5:17-21)

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Talk together as a family about Thomas. In what ways is he just like other kids? In what ways is he maybe a little different? What can we learn from him? Then think about each member of your family and talk about each person. In what ways is each family member like others their own age? In what ways are they different? What do you learn from that family member that makes you a better person? Encourage each other to remember to love and learn from everyone else, especially those who are different from ourselves. God has given them to us for that very reason!

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This (non-Orthodox, but encouraging) blog post shares the story of a mom who learned something from her child just as Thomas’ family learns from him in “The Suitcase.” http://www.thebettermom.com/the-better-mom/2011/12/15/lessons-we-learn-from-children-and-a-little-child-shall-lead-them

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Find opportunities to serve your own community, just as Thomas’ family did. Need ideas? Check the back of the book! Author Jane G. Meyer has listed a whole page of ways you can serve your community! Your priest will also have some ideas, as might the principal at your local school, or the volunteer coordinator of your local homeless shelter/soup kitchen. Contact them if you find that you need more ideas!

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“Working together on outreach projects as a family not only allows us to follow Christ’s teachings, but it strengthens family togetherness, helps children learn, and empowers them to understand that they can help others. Serving others benefits a child’s psychological, social and intellectual
development. It increases self-esteem, responsibility and helps children develop new social skills. The time that you spend together as a family helping others will be rewarding and more memorable than almost any other family activity this year.” ~ “Building a Strong Family by Serving Others” by Nicholas Chakos, “The Orthodox Observer,” Feb/March 2015.
If your family is looking for an opportunity to serve an Orthodox outreach beyond your parish/neighborhood, check out the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve (FOCUS). FOCUS North America operates a variety of ministries in more than 20 cities in the United States. FOCUS’ director wrote the above-quoted article, citing how serving through FOCUS changed his own family for the better. We highly encourage you to take a moment and read the rest of his article, which is found here:
http://focusnorthamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Orthodox-Observer-Family-Ministry-Article-Feb-2015_printed-copy.docx.pdf

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As for Me and My House…

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)


The theme for the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America’s 2016 Creative Festival is a good thing for all Orthodox Christians to think about, regardless of jurisdiction. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) This is a great verse for us to study with our family, and is even more important for us to embrace as the theme for our family’s home.

A few thoughts on the passage: Take a moment to look at the whole 24th chapter of Joshua to better understand the context of this statement of faith. In the verses prior to verse 15, we read that Joshua was reminding the Israelites of everything that God had done for them over the years. He told them to put away all other idols and serve only God. Then he made this bold declaration of his plan that he and his household would serve the Lord.

In the verses that follow, we read that Joshua carried on a dialogue with the Israelite people. As he was doing this, the people kept saying, “We will follow God!” and Joshua replied that God is Holy and therefore His people can not follow any other gods; only Him. This happened multiple times; it is almost as though Joshua was trying to talk the Israelite people out of following God; certainly he was testing their resolve; checking to see if they were certain of their decision. But the people insisted that they would follow only God. Finally, all together they made a covenant to follow the Lord. They even set up a big rock to remind themselves of that covenant.

It’s interesting to note that Joshua didn’t force the people to follow God. He simply encouraged them to choose for themselves and then he set the example by choosing to follow God with his household. As Orthodox Christian parents, we can choose that our household will follow God while our children are under our roof, as well, just as Joshua chose to do with his family. But, in the same way that Joshua related to the children of Israel who were not in his household, we too cannot force our children to follow God once they outgrow our home. We baptise our children into the Faith while they are young and we are still able to set their course in the direction of the Church, but we cannot force them to continue. That has to be their choice, and, God willing, it will be! So, just as Joshua did for his fellow Israelites, let us invite our children to follow only God for all of their lives. Let us lead the way by our own example, removing any idols in our home and in our life that could interfere with that complete following. While we follow, let us also keep reminding our children (and ourselves) of all that God has done for us along the way. Let us also remind each other that we need to follow Him without distractions. And the whole time, both when they are following with us in our home, and when they have moved out on their own, let us pray for our children, that they will always choose to serve the Lord!

Together with the family:

  1. Study Joshua 24:15 together.
  2. Talk about the verse and its implications. Consider questions such as these: So that our family can follow God more completely, is there anything that needs to change in our household? What are the idols – the things that we are allowing to be more important to us than God – that are keeping our family from following fully? How can we really serve the Lord? What does serving Him look like in everyday life?
  3. Commit together as a family to serve the Lord with all of your hearts. Make a plan for how to do that.
  4. Place a reminder, a “stone of remembrance” of sorts, somewhere in your home that will help you to remember this passage and your family’s commitment to following God more fully. It could be an actual stone or perhaps an artistic rendering of Joshua 24:15.
  5. Serve Him!

The following ideas can help your family as you apply Joshua 24:15:

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Need an idea of a way to study this passage together as a family? Here is a free printable pdf that includes the passage and a variety of related activities, including a coloring page, a word search, a crossword puzzle, fill-in-the-blank, and a devotional meditation that incorporates other scriptures. Print one for the family to share, or one for each family member. http://kidsclubs4jesus.com/OT1-60/OT35.pdf

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Khouria Gigi Shadid’s song about Joshua 24:15 can help us think about this passage. Listen here: http://www.antiochian.org/festivals/cf/theme-song-2016

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Find practical ways to implement your family’s decision to serve the Lord on this Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/lkmcj/as-for-me-and-my-house/

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Find a free “chalkboard-look” printable (5×7 size) of Joshua 24:15 to frame and display, here: http://prettydarncute.com/2013/09/new-free-printable/

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There are many ways to display Joshua 24:15 in your home. Find decals, plaques, signs, and more here: https://www.etsy.com/market/joshua_24_15

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If you have a member of the family that enjoys counted cross stitch, perhaps they could stitch this wallhanging for your house: http://www.bevscountrycottage.com/x-stitch/myhouse2.html

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Here’s a blog that one mom wrote which includes several craft ideas of ways to help children create displays of Joshua 24:15 to put up at home as a reminder: https://intentionalmomblog.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/a-as-for-me-and-my-house-we-will-serve-the-lord-joshua-2415/