Gleanings from a Book: “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle

Author’s note: Long ago I committed to reading fiction that strengthens my faith instead of dismissing it. I am fine with reading stories of people who struggle with life or with what they believe, as long as they are struggling towards God, not ignoring or shying away from Him. Because of these self-imposed limitations when it comes to reading adult-targeted fiction, I have limited my reading mostly to Christian fiction and classics. Suffice it to say that I have read a fair amount of both over the course of my five decades.

In all of my reading, I have yet to read a book like this one. “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle is Christian fiction at its best. The characters are so believable that you expect them to step right out of the book so you can marvel at the sunrise together, or share a cup of tea. Their struggles are real, as is their growth: painfully real, as is our human experience. Their story is carefully and beautifully told. This book is written as though it were already a classic.

Tuggle offers her readers a glimpse into mid-20th-century rural Pennsylvanian life, with its clash of cultures and challenges. Characters include a host of rural-minded Americans, a handful of hippies, a pair of Hungarians, a few Romanian “gypsies”, some Orthodox Christians, and more. (One character has Amish roots, but this is anything but another “Amish Christian Fiction” book: his cultural heritage is far from the focus of the book.) The characters interact with believable honesty, by turns disagreeing and misunderstanding; then accepting and helping each other as would be expected in a rural community such as theirs. (I live in Pennsylvania and married into a rural Pennsylvanian family, so I am familiar with such a community.)

Tuggle’s writing is lyrical and poetic. She refuses to spoon-feed her readers, instead inviting them to mull over the story, perhaps re-read sections, and ponder the reading. Her expertly-crafted sentences are clad in words befitting their message, saying just enough to allow the reader to find the pieces of the many puzzles in the story. Tuggle’s words spin ordinary farm life into gold, without sugar-coating the dirt.

“Lights on the Mountain” is filled with purposeful pain, glazed with moments of joy. How else could the story of a boy-becoming-a-man be genuinely told? The readers follow pensive Jess Hazel from his late boyhood through the moment when he fully embraces his adult responsibilities. Constant to his tale is the everyday glory of life on the farm. A host of colorful characters appear in different parts of his life, and not until the end of the book does the reader fully understand each one’s significance. True to life, some parts of this account leave the reader hanging until the parts come full circle, and there is beautiful completion.

This book is an interesting blend of thoughtful words, difficult subject matter, complex characters, deep faith, and simple glories. Readers will come away from reading “Lights on the Mountain” knowing that their time was well spent. I’ll warrant that many of them will read the book again, to revisit the characters and gain further insight into the puzzle pieces that they missed the first time around. I am particular with my fiction selection, and I will be among those re-readers.

By the way, according to my research, Tsura is a Romanian name. It means “light of dawn.” You’ll find that interesting when you read the book.

 

Purchase your own copy of “Lights on the Mountain” here: https://paracletepress.com/products/lights-on-the-mountain

Watch the trailer for the book here: https://youtu.be/VfCLI998hh4

 

While this book is a work of fiction, the insights that it offers will encourage you as a Christian, a spouse, a parent, and a Sunday Church School teacher. Here are a few gleanings from the book, to offer you a tiny taste:

***

“No doubt his father was right. Clyde always was. The beam of light probably was an extraordinary reflection of the everyday sun, but did that mean it couldn’t also be more? It might also be a kind of ladder, the means for God to get down to this patch of soil Hazels had been working since old Penn first claimed these woods and set things back to the way they used to be.” (pp. 19-20, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“Now that he knew how it was a man should live, it was clear that it was no more than his lot to do so. He still grieved, still felt acutely the pain of his aloneness. But there was a great deal of solace, he found, in taking Clyde’s approach to existence. Acceptance had its own plain reward. To be sure, living in such a way, a man’s sense of wonder was muted. But so was his sense of tragedy. Jess did not pine now for the old joy or wish for knowledge beyond his ken. And except for that which he now put in himself, and that which ought to be placed (with caution) in his fellow man, he did not long for faith. He did not long at all. Or he did but did not know it. And then, while he was longing without being aware that he longed, Gracie came to him. In the cool
of an evening. Almost as if she’d been sent. As if someone knew it was not good for man to be alone.” (pp. 42-43, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“For if there was anything he knew about Gracie Morozov after three months of loving her, it was that she was serious about God. It wasn’t a thing she talked about endlessly like some religious girls Jess had known—she seemed to take her faith as a natural gift, much as she did the shine and gloss of her hair or the unusual hue of her eyes, and rarely spoke of it directly, but he would have to be a fool not to see how it affected everything she said and did.” (pp. 65-66, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“She was quiet for a minute, thinking. Then she said, ‘I haven’t met Mr. Zook. But he’s human, right? And don’t we all suffer? We all have weaknesses. Injuries. Battle scars. Sins. Even the Amish. Straw hats and horse-drawn buggies don’t buy paradise. Or else none of us would need a savior.’”(p. 102, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“It seemed to Jess that he was being humbled on purpose, as if having stood for a few brief moments before the icon of Christ, he was now somehow standing within it, viewing himself through those all-seeing eyes. And from this view it was pretty clear that he had acquired more than just his father’s so-called natural way of taking his place the world. He had also acquired his stiff-neckedness. ‘There’s a way seems right to man,’ he remembered Orville Hays saying, ‘and oft times it isn’t.’ Jess wondered then if this was to be the response to his prayer. (If indeed such silent groaning was prayer.) God, after all these years, speaking to him in voices he could recognize. Or (and this was a sorrowful thought, weighted with regret) it could be that God had been speaking all along, and Jess only could not hear because he was not with any real amount of honesty listening.” (p. 184, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“Silence is a good teacher, but most of us make poor students.” (p. 210, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“‘There is a prayer we make to Christ,’ Father Daniel said, his voice growing tenderer, as if he’d heard Jess’s thoughts, knew the reason for his sigh. ‘“Wound my heart with love for you.” Is that not a strange request? It’s madness! And yet, don’t we understand it, you and me? At least a little. From the moment I saw you, I said to myself, now here’s a pilgrim I recognize. A fellow wounded. He has heard tales of a singular healing salve and has been limping about the earth to find out if one truly exists. Tonight, you’ve made a discovery. Yes, this miraculous ointment does exist. And what is it? More madness! More sweet pain to be endured. More sorrow mingled with joy. It’s love.’”(p. 214, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***

 

Advertisements

Gleanings from a Book: “Piggy in Heaven” by Melinda Johnson, Illustrated by Soraya Bartolomé

“Momma, is Fido in heaven?”

“Will I get to see him again?”

“What is heaven like?”

These questions are among those that we parents encounter both within our own hearts and from our children when a beloved pet passes away. We may not have concrete answers, but we do have “Piggy in Heaven” by Melinda Johnson, illustrated by Soraya Bartolomé. This book is about a beloved guinea pig named Piggy who has passed away. The book’s readers will savor Piggy’s story as they think of their own departed pet.

“Piggy in Heaven” allows the reader to be alongside Piggy as he awakes in heaven. He meets new friends, learns about angels, and munches on the tastiest grass and daisies he’s ever eaten. Sure, he misses his cage and his pigloo, but now he can make his own nest anywhere he wants! And if he accidentally eats it, oh well: he can just go make another, wherever he’d like! Every part of heaven is safe for piggies!

During the course of the story, Piggy learns that he died, but he does not have to process this hard news alone. His arrival in heaven grants him community in two new friends, guinea pigs named Bubbleberry and Fuzzbuzz, and they are right by his side to simultaneously explain things and comfort him. They are able to describe the change from earthly life to life in heaven in a very concrete way that even Piggy can understand.

Piggy is delighted to live in this new place, but he really misses his person. She always made him feel so special. Bubbleberry and Fuzzbuzz comfort Piggy with the news that she will be coming to heaven, too! All he has to do is wait for her. While he’s waiting, though, there’s plenty to do, other piggies to meet, and so many tasty treats to enjoy!

The story line of this book is gentle in the face of the tough topic it presents. The characters are immediately loveable. (What’s not to like about a yawning, stretching piggy whose waking thoughts include how delicious the daisies in his view look; a steadfast gray piggy who gently imparts her wisdom; and a tiny black bouncing piggy who tends to yell out “wheek-wheek-wheek” at will?) The artwork in the book is charming. Bartolomé’s illustrations fit the characters to a T. Readers will wish they could jump right into the story to play with the darling piggies.

“Piggy in Heaven” extends sweet hope to young people who have lost a beloved pet. This book allows its readers the space to consider how heaven might look (at least to a guinea pig). Behind the words and pictures, it offers comfort to readers who are missing their own beloved pet. And beneath it all lies the subtle encouragement to be the best person one can be in this life in order to be better able to partake of such a beautiful place as heaven, in anticipation of all the happy reunions there!

Purchase your own copy of “Piggy in Heaven” here: https://paracletepress.com/collections/childrens/products/piggy-in-heaven

Piggy Puppets

Here are a handful of resources related to “Piggy in Heaven” that can be of help if you share the book with your students:
***

Learn more about guinea pigs here: https://cavymadness.com/care/index.html

***

Piggy toys

Create your own puppets (or “pocket piggies”) to go with the story “Piggy in Heaven” with this printable pattern. Follow these directions to create your puppets or pocket piggies.

***

Print these paper guinea pigs to play with: https://www.thecrafttrain.com/printable-paper-guinea-pigs/

***

Find some cute guinea pig drawings to print and color here: https://www.momjunction.com/articles/guinea-pig-coloring-pages-for-your-toddlers_0093423/#gref

***

This secular article offers practical ideas of how to handle the death of a pet: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/pet-death.html

***

This article (not Orthodox, but helpful, nonetheless) offers some support to Christian adults who are helping their children through the experience of losing a pet. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-happens-to-pets-when-they-die/

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Woven: An Interactive Book for the Modern Teenage Girl on Orthodox Christianity” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas

“Woven: An Interactive Book for the Modern Teenage Girl on Orthodox Christianity” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas is so much more than just a book! It is a journal that walks an Orthodox girl through many of the challenges she will meet in her teen years. It is also the centerpiece of an experience that a group of young Orthodox girls can share, to help them grow both individually and together. The heart of the book is to help Orthodox teen girls to embrace the reality that they are created by God and have been woven together on purpose, so that they can accept and share the love of God.

“Woven” is a beautiful book in so many ways. It is physically attractive, with page-by-page colorful accents which tie the chapters together. The illustrations sprinkled throughout the book are contemporary and tasteful. Even the text is eye catching: some phrases or quotes are in different fonts or colors, engaging the reader and encouraging thought. There is also a delightful balance between information, scripture, story, and creative response opportunities throughout the book. Readers of varying learning styles will resonate with different parts of this book.

Each chapter has a different focus. The chapters are set up to be experienced in order, in 6 chapter-sessions. The first focuses on helping each young woman find her identity in the truth that she is created to become like God, and that she is living her identity when she participates in His grace through the spiritual gifts He has given to her. The second looks at emotions and how to better understand what her emotions are telling her, so she can react in healthy, non-destructive ways. The third focuses on helping young women work towards being authentic in their self-understanding. Instead of trying to present a “perfect” self (conveyed by how she dresses or what she posts on social media), she is encouraged to know that God created her to be a joy, and that embracing this knowledge can help her to truly be a delight. The fourth encourages developing healthy friendships with other girls. It looks at behaviors that can harm those friendships, and suggests ways she can change her habits and break harmful cycles so those friendships can grow. The fifth looks at love and romance, encouraging the young women to step back and look at the world’s views on each, and to embrace the healthier ways to look at these topics which the Church has offered for centuries. The sixth chapter is a review of the book, offering once more the truth of God’s love and acceptance of each reader. It also offers space and time for reviewing each chapter to see what she has gleaned from the book as a whole.

While it is intended to be completed in a small group context (like an extended Sunday School class or a girls-only SOYO/GOYA small group), with a few adjustments a mom could guide her daughter(s) or a godmother could work through the book with her goddaughter(s). The free, downloadable discussion guide adds value to the book. There are a few parts of the book which will not make sense without it. The guide contains additional links, as well as a suggested movie to watch after each chapter/session. This book would make a wonderful series of monthly retreats for young girls in a parish!

We highly recommend “Woven.” It is an invaluable learning tool for the young women of the Church. The insights the girls will gain as individuals, the bonding they’ll experience with fellow Orthodox Christians, and the wisdom they’ll glean from their leader(s) are all of a value far beyond the small expenses of time and money required to provide this opportunity. We hope that many parishes will invest in their young women, weaving love into their hearts through this book and the experiences it affords.

Purchase “Woven” here: https://www.woveninhislove.org/book/

Discussion leaders (Sunday Church School teachers, SOYO/GOYA leaders, small group leaders, and/or moms) can download a free (and indispensable) facilitators’ guide here: https://www.woveninhislove.org/facilitators-corner/

 

Here are some gleanings from the book:

***

woven in his image

“We are a mystery, even to ourselves, but in the next few weeks, we will hope to unravel part of that mystery by discovering more about how God has lovingly woven us so beautifully in His image.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 18)

***

“We are each created with a purpose, not just in the broad sense of all people are created in God’s image, but in a deeply personal sense of: ‘God created me because he wants someone like me in the world.’” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 28)

***

“No matter how bad you feel, no matter how bad things seem, please remember two important things:

  1. There is always something you can do to make things better. It may be really small or it may be really hard, but there is always something that can be done.
  2. God never bails on you! He never leaves you in the dust. You can turn anything over to Him.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 53)

***

“Sometimes we feel like we have to change too much of ourselves in order to fit in and have friends. It’s one thing to modify some outward behaviors or change your appearance to fit it; it’s another to adapt so much to the crowd that you lose yourself… The problem comes when we try to be somebody else because we think people won’t like us.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 97)

***

“Can you imagine the relief Mary found in her friend, Elizabeth? In Elizabeth, Mary found love, assurance, support, encouragement, and a sisterly confirmation of their faith in the Lord. How amazing of a friend is that? …We are called to be a friend like Elizabeth—a blessing to others, a friend who brings peace and love to her friends’ minds, and helps them see blessings and hope as they face their fears, insecurities, secrets, and burdens.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 119)

***

Woven illustration“Something that is very hard to understand is that people love you, but the unconditional, filling love we are looking for can only be given to us by the Lord. Only God can fill that lonely void that hurts so badly sometimes. God always accepts you. He always loves you; there is no rejection from the Lord.
He chooses YOU every day.
He thinks you are so worthy of love He sent His only child to die for you. He doesn’t wish you were prettier, smarter, or more athletic… He loves you exactly as you are; He created you because He wanted someone like you in the world.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 141)

***

“We all want happiness here on earth, and sometimes we have that, but the heart of life is not what we get here, it’s who we are becoming in the light of eternity along the way. We are woven in His love and He understands us—God understands our complex emotions, our hearts and minds, the innermost needs that confuse even us. He loves us even when we’re a hot mess.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 158)

***

Ps 139 Woven

Gleanings from a Book: “The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson

Author’s note: I am going to be forthright and admit that I’m cheating, and I’m actually okay with it. Perhaps I should explain. Ordinarily, when I review a book, I read it in one giant gulp before I share it with you. However, there is too much in this book’s 400 pages that I would miss if I did so, and selfishly, I don’t want to miss a thing. I want to experience Angela Doll Carlson’s daily walk through the first volume of the Philokalia as it was written and is meant to be experienced: one bit each day for a year. But at the same time, I am far too enthused about this book to keep it to myself until I have read the whole thing. My compromise is to “cheat” by reading from selected spots and sharing a few gleanings with you right now, so that you get a taste of it. I will be reading “The Wilderness Journal” as it was intended to be read in the year to come. Perhaps these gleanings will encourage you to join me!

Angela Doll Carlson’s book “The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” is a year’s worth of daily meditations on volume 1 of the Philokalia. That volume features writings from St. Isaiah the Solitary, Evagrios the Solitary, St. John Cassian, St. Mark the Ascetic, St. Hesychios the Priest, St. Neilos the Ascetic, St. Diadochos of Photiki, and St. John of Karpathos. “The Wilderness Journal” is divided into sections which feature each of those holy writers. Angela has invited a fellow author to introduce each writer. Thus, there are a few “guest author” days sprinkled throughout the book, one at the beginning of each section, immediately preceding the entries related to that writer’s quotes. Each subsequent day features one thought-provoking quote from the holy writer, and a short meditation related to that quote which Angela wrote as she pondered its message. She invites the reader to amble along slowly with her in this way through the first volume of the Philokalia, so that they, too, may learn “the love of the beautiful”.

I have read enough of the journal to know that I need it. I’ve found quote after quote that speaks to where I am right now: from needing to still my mind and focus on God; to learning to love and care for my neighbor; to being diligent in my pursuit of godliness; and so much more. Every entry offers a delectable nugget that I will be able to chew on all day long. Angela’s meditations grant the reader a glimpse of her take on the quote, as well as the opportunity to stretch their heart and mind in a way that is both good and helpful. She does not want the reader to consider her words as writing “about the Philokalia,” preferring rather that we readers read her words as “a book about [her] reading the Philokalia.”(p. 7) She recognizes that each reader may respond to the quotes in a different way, so she encourages each person to keep their own wilderness journal as they read.

As I mentioned above, I have not read this entire book yet. But I have read enough of it to be convinced that it will be an excellent aid for the spiritual growth of every person who reads it. So, dear community, here we are at the end of a calendar year. God willing, a brand new one gleams before us. As we step into this new year, please consider joining me in reading this book. Together, let’s walk through the year of “The Wilderness Journal,” learning and growing through these meditations on the first volume of the Philokalia.

Find your own copy of “The Wilderness Journal” here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/the-wilderness-journal-365-days-with-the-philokalia/

 

Here are a few gleanings I have gathered from what I read. I will share one quote from each holy writer, then a tidbit of Angela’s reflection on that quote.

***

“Like a pilot steering a boat through the waves, he should hold to his course, guided by grace. Keeping his attention fixed within himself, he should commune with God in stillness, guarding his thoughts from distraction and his intellect from curiosity.” ~ St. Isaiah the Solitary

 

“I cannot silence the world. I cannot calm the waves… The world is what it is—noisy and beautiful and enduring. I can only look ahead to the shore and hold to the course. Today it means letting the phone ring, ignoring the dog barking, taking a deep breath and returning to these words when the waves crash against the side of the boat…” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 18)

***

“You will recall how Christ did not reject the widow’s mites (cf. Mark 12:44), but accepted them as greater than the rich gifts of many others.” ~ Evagrios the Solitary

 

“Whatever you have, it’s enough. I say this, but I don’t believe it easily… as long as we see ourselves as profoundly lacking, we will not offer ourselves to another person… What is at risk today in knowing that in Christ, I am enough—not perfect, but enough?” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 57)

***

“The Gospel teaches us to cut off the roots of our sins and not merely their fruits. When we have dug the root of anger out of our heart, we will no longer act with hatred or envy.” ~ St. John Cassian

 

“Anger is not without its bloom. We are angry sometimes for good reason. Anger, like pain, tells us something. But if left unchecked, it grows out of control and chokes the possibilities of beauty… The deep work of anger is regular maintenance for the soul…” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 93)

***

“The intellect cannot be still unless the body is still also: and the wall between them cannot be demolished without stillness and prayer.” ~ St. Mark the Ascetic

 

“Even if it’s only one minute, I’ll take it. Even if, in the middle of the crazy busy-ness of this city, this family, this job, this life, I can contact the stillness, I will take it.

Each moment like that is a small stone I take from the wall that already exists between who I am and who I mean to be…” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 140)

***

“A true monk is one who has achieved watchfulness, and he who is truly watchful is a monk in his heart.” ~ St. Hesychios the Priest

 

[On beginning to run again, as she prepared for a 5K]

“I was surging one week and retreating the next, feeling failure, reveling in improvement, rising and falling, and on and on. I did not realize that over time I’d developed a habit of running. ‘I’ve never been a runner,’ or ‘I hate running,’ I had said in the past. I may quit after this race and never run again, but those old statements will never be true again.
Habits show who we are.” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 248)

***

“Through our anxiety about worldly things we hinder the soul from enjoying divine blessings and we bestow on the flesh greater care and comfort than are good for it.” ~ St. Neilos the Ascetic

 

“How far do I get from home before I begin to worry that I’ve left the door unlocked or the stove on? Not far…

So many reasons to worry. So many reasons to fear. How far do I get into the muddy pit of fear before I decide to move to prayer, to reach up and take a hand offered and pull myself out? Not far, I hope. Not far.” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 282)

***

“We share in the image of God by virtue of the intellectual activity of our soul: for the body is, as it were, the soul’s dwelling place.” ~ St. Diadochos of Photiki

 

“It’s a funny thing about windows: two-way glass means I’m looking out, judging what I see, but if anyone were to look in, what a invasion it would be… This whole journey into the wilderness of the soul—the reading, the study, the prayer, the daily reflection—cannot merely be an exercise in looking out. This journey must allow for some looking in, as well.” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 346)

***

“As we look up to Him with cries of distress and continual lamentation, it is He Himself that we breathe.” ~ St. John of Karpathos

 

“When my children were young and got hurt, I would hold them first, tell them I know it hurts, then tend to the wound. That embrace was foundational. Triage of the soul first. That embrace said, ‘I am here, so you are not alone…’
This is what God does for us when we lift up our hurts to Him…” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 396)

***

 

On Helping Our Sunday Church School Students to be Generous

We are rapidly approaching the Nativity of our Lord, a time when many of us desire to give gifts to others in our life. We talk in many of our Sunday Church School lessons about generosity and kindness. Our students may wish to give gifts to others, but not have the means to make that happen.

Perhaps we can help them to do so, simultaneously helping them be able to act on the lessons we’ve shared about generosity and kindness! Here are a handful of ideas of gifts that we can help our students to make and then give away. All it takes is a little planning on our part (and a little expenditure as well, but not too much). We have compiled a list of homemade gift ideas, gift wrap ideas, and Christmas card ideas for you to peruse as you look for ways to help your students be able to give.

If you decide to do this, plan to spend a whole class period creating gifts. Gather all of the needed materials ahead of time, and make a sample of each item so that you can troubleshoot and be assured that you have all of the items necessary to create that item. You may also want to recruit assistants for the day. (Maybe SOYO members could help, or some other adult volunteers.)

Set up a few “stations” around the room, each with a different craft (or one with a craft, one with wrapping paper, and one with a card) so students can select which item(s) to create and give. They should pick the one thing they’d like to make the most, and start there, rotating around to other stations as there is time. Or perhaps it would work best for your class if you lead the group in making the same project all together, at once. You know your space, as well as your class, and what will work for them, so plan accordingly.

What a beautiful thing it can be if we are able to make it possible for our students to be able to give their very own gift(s) to others in their life!
Here we have collected some gift-creating links. What ideas do you have to share with the community? Please comment below!

Gifts your students can give:

These tiny illuminated “snowy” scenes make pretty decorations that will be enjoyed for years to come by their recipient: https://bitzngiggles.com/illuminated-snow-scene-in-a-jar/

We especially liked the painted trivets, the glass magnet set, and the model magic snowflake ornament ideas from this list: https://innerchildfun.com/2014/12/handmade-holiday-gift-ideas.html

Quite a few of these could be prepared in a classroom, and will make nice gifts:

https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/recipes-for-gifts-in-a-jar/view-all/https://newdream.org/re If your students are all able to do all of their own writing, consider this gift: sources/printable-coupon-book

The handprint snowmen ornament, the pine cone “tree” decoration, and the matchbox ornaments (made with Nativity icons instead of other Christmas images) are all great gift ideas found here: http://www.woohome.com/diy-2/top-38-easy-and-cheap-diy-christmas-crafts-kids-can-make

The snowball soap could make a great gift for your students to give to a sibling or friend; the decorated candle would work well for a mom or godmom. But there are many other gift ideas here: https://gluesticksblog.com/2015/12/25-holiday-gifts-kids-can-make.html

The cooks in your students’ life would appreciate one of these: https://www.homedit.com/have-fun-kitchen-painted-wooden-spoons/

Find a variety of gifts that kids can make here: https://www.projectswithkids.com/kid-made-gifts/

Gift wrap ideas that you can make in class:

Help your students to make gift wrap for the presents they give. Perhaps the rubber-stamped or paint splattered craft paper ideas found here would work: https://www.shelterness.com/diy-christmas-wrapping-paper/

Make tiny gift bags from folded envelopes:

https://www.craftmehappy.com/2014/06/how-to-turn-envelope-into-gift-bag.html

Make larger gift bags with scrapbook paper and ribbon handles: https://klompenstampers.com/2018/11/how-to-make-a-gift-bag-with-scrapbook-paper.html

Cards your students can make to give:

This nativity “stained glass” is a gift that could be given on the front of a Christmas card: http://www.housingaforest.com/stained-glass-nativity/

Each child’s handprint can become the manger on a card like this: https://www.craftymorning.com/diy-baby-jesus-in-manger-handprint/

Use coffee filters, paint, a printable template, and colored paper to make these colorful cards:https://www.projectswithkids.com/kid-made-christmas-cards/

A sharpie, some finger paints, and a little imagination can bring one of these cards to life: https://www.craftymorning.com/fingerprint-christmas-light-craft-for/

 

A Handful of Resources to Help Us Better Care for Children with Invisible Disabilities

About a month ago, I came across an offer for a small book about children living with mood disorders. Since we at the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education are always looking for resources for families and teachers that we can then share with you, I requested a copy. My intent was to read the book and offer here a few gleanings from it, highlighting it as a resource. As I inquired about the availability of the book (it was published in 2003), I learned that there are not many hard copies left. However, Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski, who sent the book to me, has so many other resources up her sleeve that this journey has ended up being not so much about the book itself as about helping us to become more aware of invisible disabilities (including those that the book addresses) and offering resources that can help us to best care for (and about) those living with such disabilities.

The little book that started all of this is called “The Storm In My Brain: Kids and Mood Disorders (Bipolar Disorder and Depression)”. It was written by Martha Hellendar, one of the founders of the Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation. It was published by CABF and Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. It introduces mood disorders in child-friendly terminology, explains how it may feel to experience the disorder, recommends ideas of what to do when you’re feeling that way, and offers reassurance that the disorder does not make the person experiencing it a bad person. In addition to this helpful information for children, the book contains a page of tips for parents, and another for teachers. Anyone living or working with children with mood disorders will benefit from reading this little book. You will find a link to the pdf of the book below.  But there are many invisible disabilities besides mood disorders. We will share a few resources related to those, below, as well.

Perhaps you do not know a child with a mood disorder or any other invisible disability, and this is not part of your personal experience. Believe it or not, these resources still apply to you! Why? Well, chances are that you DO know a child (or adult) struggling with an invisible disability; they are just working very hard to keep it invisible, and succeeding – at least keeping it invisible to you. This means they are carrying this cross and struggling this struggle, alone. In order to better understand and help, we encourage you to familiarize yourself with these disabilities and the resources available to help those living with them. And why should you do that? St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, wrote, “the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.” (1 Cor. 12: 25-27 NKJV) The statistics are such that we can safely say that all of us have fellow parishioners who are part of our Body (the Church), living with an invisible disability as part of their cross, their struggle. If we take the time to learn a little about what they are experiencing, we can more easily pray for them; more effectively care for them; and more joyfully welcome these brothers and sisters. In that sort of atmosphere, these precious ones will be better able to contribute their valuable gifts to the Body, and, together, we will all be blessed!

While “The Storm in my Brain” is not readily available as a hard copy, you can find it online here: http://www.dbsalliance.org/pdfs/storm.pdf

Note: Since the book was published, The Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation has joined forces with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, whose mission statement reads, “DBSA provides hope, help, support, and education to improve the lives of people who have mood disorders.” Find them on the web at www.DBSAlliance.org.
Here are some of Matushka Wendy’s writings and other links that can be helpful as we meet, love, and care for others with invisible disabilities. What resources are you aware of, which the community would benefit from knowing about? Please share them!

***

Matushka Wendy started a Facebook group called “Koinonia for Exceptional Orthodox Families”, which is described as “a place for Orthodox parents of Exceptional Children to find support from other parents – sharing ways to help keep our children(and us) on the Spiritual Journey of Orthodox Christianity.” It is a private group, so if you would like to join, you’ll need to find it on Facebook, request to join, and then await approval. This group is an excellent resource for parents and teachers. It is also a place where families with exceptional children can safely ask fellow Orthodox Christians for help, ideas, and prayers.

***

This document by Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski encourages us to embrace all of God’s children (including those with special needs). It offers simple definitions for a number of “invisible” disabilities which, just like any other illness (although these are not contagious), are very real challenges for children and their families alike. It is a useful place for parents and teachers to begin to understand the challenges that some children face. Especially useful to anyone not living with an invisible disability are the “How Can I Help?” and “Other Suggestions for Inclusion” sections.  https://www.academia.edu/9255990/Children_of_God

***

How can we be family, the Body, to a child (and his/her family) who is living with an invisible disability? “These families need to have spiritual support to face the sometimes overwhelming challenges that these disorders bring to their households… Offer to help in some way, even if you are turned down. Just the act of offering shows that you are supportive…” Read more of what Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski has to say on the subject in her article at the top of this page:

https://oca.org/parish-ministry/familylife/church-and-the-child-with-invisible-disabilities

***

“Children with special needs come to church with two strikes against them: (1) they are a child and (2) their particular challenge may not have visible signs like crutches or a wheelchair would, leading those around them to make judgments and even ask the family to leave because they are ‘disturbing the worship of others.’” Read what our Orthodox theology has to say about children with special needs in Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski’s graduate school research paper (which is very informational, but not so academic as to be unreadable), found here: http://www.academia.edu/7399622/Embracing_All_God_s_Children_Orthodox_Theology_Concerning_Disability_and_Its_Implications_for_Ministry_with_Special_Needs_Youth_in_the_Orthodox_Church
(Incidentally, she completed all of her coursework 30 years before she wrote this paper: and in the meantime, God granted her and her husband children with some invisible disabilities which greatly enhanced her research!)

***

“In my experience, many people are not clear on exactly what ‘hidden disability’ means. The following is a list of what the term may encompass:
Autism
Developmental delay
Emotional disability
Deaf and hard of hearing
Mild mental developmental disability
Other health impairments e.g. osteogenesis imperfecta, otherwise known as fragile bone disease, carpal tunnel syndrome
Speech/language impairment
Brain injury
Visual impairment
Reading this list, which is not exhaustive, the reader can see that it covers a wide range of individuals who require special assistance from community resources.” Read about how people with hidden disabilities can benefit from community support and assistance in the article “Additional Observations and Resources for Parents of Children with Hidden Disabilities”,
by Michele Karabin, found at the bottom of this page: https://oca.org/parish-ministry/familylife/church-and-the-child-with-invisible-disabilities

(Also, just before that article, in the middle of the page there is a list and links to a variety of websites that can be helpful to someone wishing to learn more about invisible disabilities.)

***

Find a variety of links to helpful sites related to people with exceptional needs here: https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/specialneedsresources.pdf/77f65280-5a12-4e7a-b854-7bbf25ea71a0

***

Children living with bipolar disorder, as well as their families and teachers, will find help, support, and information here http://www.bpchildren.com/. The presentation on the home page offers a plethora of information to anyone living with or working with a child experiencing BP, and includes anecdotes from a child living with the disorder. It is well worth the 22-minute investment.
***

 

Gleanings From a Book: “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis

Reading through the Psalter is a beautiful discipline at any time, but especially during a lenten period. Sharing this experience with friends is even more lovely. Over the years, I’ve been part of several lenten Psalter groups. Alongside my sisters (and some brothers) in Christ in these groups, I have both struggled and enjoyed the process of reading twice through the Psalms during a particular lenten period. When I heard about Sylvia Leontaritis’ new book “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women,” I was excited to have this pretty-covered version of the Psalter to be my companion book as I pray.

What I did not expect was the chance to pray the Psalter while feeling that I was sharing the experience with a wise best friend. Both Sylvia’s heart for God and her desire to live a truly Orthodox life pour out through her words, simultaneously challenging and encouraging her readers in a way that is usually reserved for dear friends. The tone in which she writes welcomes the reader to embrace her observations, ponder them, and then consider how to implement the ideas for their own growth.

The book begins with a few introductory pages which offer some background and suggested ways to use it; an explanation of what a Psalter group is; and many quotes from Holy Fathers about the importance of reading/praying the Psalms. Prayers to pray before and after the reading are included next. After that, the book settles into a routine. Each kathisma (grouping of chapters from the book of Psalms)’s text is printed right in the book, in numerical order. Every kathisma is printed with a very wide margin, so that readers can make notes right there in the book, by particular verses, as desired. Following each kathisma, Sylvia has written a short meditation (2-3 pages) in which she focuses on a theme from that kathisma or on a particular verse found therein. These meditations are concise, but beautifully insightful and stimulating. Each meditation also includes a related quote from a saint or Church Father which enhances the meditation.

Following each meditation are a number of lined pages for journaling. These pages offer the reader space to make this book their own, as they “chew” on a particular portion of the kathisma or interact with Sylvia’s meditation. These pages are a place to record thoughts and learnings. Each journaling section is large enough that even if the reader is one who regularly joins Psalter groups, there’s plenty of space to write, even multiple times. Readers who jot notes and learnings every time they pray the kathismas will find the book to become a record of their own growth, as they read back over what (and how) they were learning at points along their journey.

The Psalms address a variety of problems/difficult circumstances common to humankind. Sylvia mentions in her introduction that St. Arsenios of Cappadocia considered the Psalms to be a Book of Needs. “Songs of Praise” closes with a topical index of Psalms, as gleaned from St. Arsenios. The index makes appropriate Psalms easy to find and read in an hour of need.

Orthodox Christian women who desire to grow in their journey with God will be grateful for this beautiful tool. “Songs of Praise” has the potential to greatly help any woman who will put some thought, time, and prayer into her study of the Psalter. All who set aside time to read it carefully, meditating on the words with pen in hand, will be blessed.

Sylvia writes in the introduction that her hope “is that this book will inspire women everywhere to make the art of praying the Psalter part of their daily routine. I pray it will encourage each of us to put down our devices, let go of the trivial and temporary connections they entice us with, and reach for something better that will connect us eternally. Make the following pages feel like home to you—highlight, scribble, circle, dog-ear, tape photos, and refer back to them whenever your heart needs a hug…. I’m so grateful to be walking hand in hand with you as we strive to learn God’s ways and offer up these songs of praise.” (pp. 6-7)

I am of the opinion that Sylvia’s book has accomplished her mission. It has, at least, for me. I have already been blessed through this first reading, and I look forward to reading it more carefully again (and again!) and gleaning even more wisdom and encouragement.

Find “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/songs-of-praise-a-psalter-devotional-for-orthodox-women/

Here are some gleanings from the book:

***

“Even if I’m having a rough day—perhaps especially if I’m having a rough day—focusing my thoughts on all the good things in life always chases away the negative. It’s hard to be discontented when you’re counting your blessings.
Prayer journaling is a great way to remind yourself of all the ways God works in your life. It’s a creative way to express your thoughts and feelings to God. After all, isn’t that what the psalms were to David as he wrote them?”

(p. 26, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

***

“The world needs more women who are courageous enough to do what makes them holy—not happy. Women should be confident in their natural beauty… True beauty moves in stages, and we should trust God to continue transforming us into what He created us to be… Beside my bed, I have icons of some of my favorite Orthodox women… They are the women I look up to, the ones I want to be like ‘when I grow up.’ And I’ll tell you, I can’t imagine a single one of them fretting over gray hairs or crow’s feet.”

(pp 77-78. , “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

***

“It hurts to be broken, but how we react to that pain is what determines whether it turns us into diamonds or destroys us. Pain can make us bitter and afraid, or it can make us strong and courageous so that we have nothing to fear when the hour of trial arrives yet again.”

(p. 96, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

***

“I remember hearing that when a holy person enters a place, he or she can immediately sense its spiritual atmosphere. I have often wondered what our home feels like to a spiritual person.
As keepers of a home, we are largely responsible for that atmosphere. Not only should our homes be clean and welcoming, they should be spiritual.”

(p. 134, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

***

“Many times we read about saints, such as St. John the Baptist and St. Seraphim of Sarov, who left the world and went into the wilderness for a certain amount of time to reconnect with God. This wasn’t a concept for them alone; it is a call to every one of us. It is a call to remind us that every so often we need to take a time-out, leave our worldly cares behind, and seek Him in the wilderness.”

(p. 170, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

***

“Take control of the things you grant entrance into your heart. Be watchful of the things you pacify yourself with. Give thanks for the mundane and savor the simple. Most often, the most extraordinary things in our lives aren’t really things at all and are hidden away in the most ordinary of days.”

(p. 189, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

***

“As Orthodox Christians, we don’t go door to door preaching our faith; we live it in our own lives and trust God to do the rest. There’s a common misconception out there that Christians are supposed to be perfect. But you know what? There’s no such thing. A good Christian is not perfect. A good Christian is struggling. We do our best to follow the path of Christ, but we will fall a million times along the way. What makes us different is that we have the Church to help us up each and every time we fall, through the Mystery of Confession.”

(p. 226, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

***

“For us as busy women, it’s impossible not to multitask to some extent, but as Orthodox women, we have to remember the healing power of being still. It’s in those moments of stillness that the fog is wiped from our glasses and we see life for what it truly is—a beautiful mess. The days are long sometimes, but the years are much too short. I, for one, want to stop and breathe in every crazy-beautiful-messy moment I’m blessed to see.”

(p. 259, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

***

46523739_10215763335788148_6425190565654036480_n-001“Life is so much fuller when we set limitations on the virtual world. There’s more time to read or knit or take a walk or snuggle with our littles without distraction. Decide which life is really worth investing in—your spiritual life or your virtual one—and then fill it with the things that truly make your heart happy. If we struggle to fill our lives with good and spiritual things and constantly have prayer on our lips, there will be no room left for the unholy.”

(p. 314, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

***

“As parents, our number one priority is to teach our children to live as true Orthodox Christians. Otherwise, the world will teach them not to.”

(p. 332, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

***

“The lives of the saints are living examples of how to live a life dedicated to God in a fallen and sinful world. They teach us how to overcome our passions and grow spiritually. The saints are arrows in our spiritual quiver. Everything about their lives points the way to Him. Let us never doubt or underestimate the power of their speedy intercessions.

‘What does the daily invocation of the saints signify? It signifies that God’s saints live, and are near us, ever ready to help us, by the grace of God. we live together with them in the house of our Heavenly Father, only in different parts of it. We can converse with them, and they with us. God’s saints are near to the believing heart, and are ready in a moment to help those who call upon them with faith and love.’ ~ St. John of Kronstadt”

(pp. 350-351, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

***

“Even in our day and age, there are so many people in need of the most basic of life’s necessities. While we may not be able to make a difference for everyone, if we just make a difference for someone, that is enough.”

(p. 365, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

***

If “Songs of Praise: a Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis inspires you to do more journaling related to the scriptures, you may find some of the ideas in this blog post helpful:

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/02/03/on-learning-the-scriptures-by-creating-a-scripture-journal/

https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/02/05/on-learning-the-scriptures-by-creating-a-scripture-journal/

***