It must be desperate when God sends a self-care opportunity out of the blue: crazy busy autism household in lock down.

Social media is giving me the impression that everyone has managed to achieve great and exciting projects during lockdown. I think I’m developing a good dose of lockdown envy, and guilt that I haven’t! There have been no home improvement DIY’s, no de-cluttering, no clearing out – the house is in fact messier and more chaotic than usual. I haven’t learnt any new interesting skills (apart from with tech for our ministry tasks). There just hasn’t been the time or the energy!

Doing work, ministry, volunteering, schooling, family life; being Mum, carer, wife, author, a disciple, a human – all simultaneously, all in the same space for all these weeks has been an intense challenge with no respite. The worries of the lockdown and the virus have made T more clingy than usual, set back our sleep (which lets face it wasn’t great anyway), caused bigger and more frequent waves of anxiety that have had to be managed… and everything has had to be done differently – and we don’t like change in this household!

I’ve been counting it as a good day when we are all up & dressed for some of it, and we get to bed having been fed & watered (which we are always – thank you Andrew!) and still in one piece!

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Just for a moment this morning we all went to the garden, at the same time and stood looking up at the house martins circling the garden, and trying out our house walls and window ledges for size. It was breathtaking – the birds, and the all stopping together to take it all in.

In a whirl of busy-ness where when ‘work’ (voluntary & now job as well – that’s taking some getting used to) can be put down, something or usually someone else needs to be attended to it was like a long drink of cold water on a hot day!

I do thank God for those unexpected moments he provides which, of course, turn out to do self-care and rest so much better than anything you could have planned … and not quite achieved.

 

Love is patient, love is kind…practicing family love during lock down

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The trouble with lock down is that it is magnifying our weak spots! It is intense being together 24/7 for this length of time!! (Or is that just us – please tell me it isn’t)

Loving each other as a family cannot stay as words only, this pressurized time needs us to step up big time and become much more conscious of our actions towards each other. Not at all easy! Our actions means our tone of voice, our assumptions (often based on un-forgiven baggage lets face it), our body language and facial expressions (which of course we don’t all read in the same way which adds another layer of complexity), our acts of service and choices that affect each other.

The Bible gives us a daunting description of family love…

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

from 1 Cor 13

… and of course shows us what that love looks like in practice in the life and death of Jesus. The passage finishes with ‘LOVE NEVER FAILS’. Oh help!

Truth is, when I rely on my ability to ‘try, try, try again’ with even just one of the adjectives in the passage I run out. My fragile, incomplete ability to love is not enough to never fail my family. It is true that being a Christian is not to be perfect – but rather to know we need perfecting by the grace of God.

This week one of the new words for T in her school work at home was ‘invoke’, to actively invite and welcome in, to call upon the presence of. A word that for me conjours up a picture of embrace… which is not simply me embracing an abstract concept when it comes to God, but rather a real living, holy presence who is also actively invested in the embrace! I’m reminded of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal’s return and the Father who out ran the shame and disgrace to reach his child and clothe him with honour, and crown him with love. We are invited into an embrace full of love – love so abundantly given that there is enough to fill us to overflowing.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Col 3:12-14

We still ‘try, try, try again’ – but wrapping the clothes God gives us really close, fully embracing his loving grace-filled presence (yep – on a good day!!), allowing his love to embrace us – our thinking, our actions and words.

God’s not finished with me yet!

 

 

Decorating our windows with the message of hope this Easter

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You will have seen the numerous rainbows of hope & cheerfulness appearing in windows around the world in the last few weeks, and I was reading last night about the teddy bears that are being dressed and propped up in windows for children to spot as they exercise. Great ideas for community and sharing positive messages with each other whilst social distancing.

So it got me thinking – how can I decorate my windows and doors with the message of hope this Easter? 

Not just to participate in the hope of Easter as a family, but to somehow share that hope we have with the community around us. Maybe an upstairs window, the front door, the gate at the end of the driveway… places that will be seen by delivery drivers, walkers out for their daily exercise, and neighbors.

Could I even perhaps even tell the story of Easter week? (Or am I thinking too big?)

Could cut outs (large -ish) of card from boxes etc. work in a window to make a silhouette in the evenings and could be coloured to be interesting in daylight.

Or could tissue paper stained glass work?

What are you going to do to share the hope of Easter in your community this year?

 

What are you giving up for Lent? Nothing!

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Yeah!!! It’s spring! We’ve made it!

There are daffodils out, pink and yellow primroses and catkins (no idea if that’s the right word, but I seem to find myself calling all spring-time, yellow-polleny-fluffy things on trees catkins) and the air smells hopeful.

At the same time T has now been to her new school for two weeks and is settling more quickly than we dared to even dream she might. She’s still on-the-edge-tired by the ends of the day but she’s going, and is going out of the house for clubs and groups outside school too. Just a remarkable change for which we are so very thankful to God. We even did school this week with Daddy away, and the wonderful help of a friend, I wasn’t sure that was going to be possible when I looked ahead last week.

This time last year I had already shown you all our plans for lent but this year I haven’t even had the head space to make any plans at all – and here we are in lent. It happens, and it’s okay. Someone asked T the other day what she was giving up for lent, she replied ‘NOTHING!’ – which caused a giggle or two.

However I came away from that conversation feeling quite freed in an unexpected way. No we haven’t given things up, instead we’ve kept tight hold of God – not intentionally for lent, just out of sheer necessity. The last few months have felt a little like it did when I was a child and was holding tight to a parent as we got safely to our destination through a crowded market or street – I’ve always hated being in crowds, everyone and everything pressing in and having to constantly adjust and dodge. As a child, holding tight didn’t stop the experience being a tough one but it was my tangible point of certainty that my parents would get me through. As a family we’ve had a lot of adjusting and dodging to do, it’s been full on and at times has felt like a crowd constantly jostling into us but I have been aware of that tangible point of certainty despite not being able to see over everything to the destination.

So, no we’re not giving anything up this lent – we’ll keep pressing on with God as we are, holding tight. I would, of course, love to fit in time to read a book, and when we get sunny spring days like today I fully intend to get back out into the garden and care for it. All of that will be more than enough of a Lenten challenge this year!

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Joining in with fellowship lunches

IMG_20200216_172741075Our parenting has always been in the context of church life, which inevitably means fellowship lunches – bring & share – pot suppers – whatever we want to call them. You know, time after worship around food and together time with the church family.

It’s never been particularly optional being the vicar & family which means over the years I have had to come up with a number of coping strategies for us as a family to get through these as smoothly as we can.

It’s not that we don’t like them, or don’t think they’re important -we do. It’s that they’re perhaps one of the hardest bits of church family life for us as a family.

They are often noisy, and crowded – that’s a really good thing, but hard for us. There is an unpredictability about them; the room layout will be different, timing will be an inexact science, you never know what food there will be (even if quiche is a given in most churches here in the UK, what flavour!?!), or who might sit with you! So many unknowns. And you’re expected to eat, in front of people! Something that is at times an overwhelmingly paralyzing, stressful thing. There is almost inevitable sensory overload, and anxiety about the uncertainties, and the social demands –  together these can make a fellowship lunch both daunting and very exhausting.

I was reminded just this last weekend of all the years I have been alongside children and young people finding all this overwhelming because we had an 80th birthday in the family with a big meal at a carvery to go to. Not easy, but we did it.

So over the years I have got us through these meals using a variety of coping strategies and I just wondered if any might be helpful, or jog a new thought that might be helpful for you:

  • Using a social story about what might happen, what the room might look, smell, sound like. And what I can say if someone talks to me.
  • Taking a familiar chair – easy enough for us when B was small, partly because she was petite for so long our portable strap on any chair highchair could come with us everywhere.
  • Trying to face them away from the whole room in our choice of seats at tables rather than expecting them to cope right in the middle of it all facing all the other tables.
  • Allowing under table picnics and play as needed – and brushing off the looks and comments of others (life’s far too short!). In fact I have often found other children come and join in.
  • Taking the kids choice of food and keeping some back to make sure they get some at the table we sit at.
  • Bringing their own packed lunch.
  • A bag of distractions! Bubbles, games, fiddles and fidgets, a favourite book or set of little play things, colouring.
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  • Set challenges or play a game: how many people can you count wearing purple, etc. Or an ‘eye spy’ sheet of things to look for and tick off during the mealtime.
  • Not staying to the end, but leaving when the kids are reaching their limit – when possible.
  • Creating a breakout space – either bring a bag of stuff and a picnic rug, or organize to use resources from church. A designated area that’s there to escape to, slightly tucked away but safely in sight.
  • Negotiating how long we’ll stay, or what might be eaten (for example, eat one thing then we’ll go) – and sticking to the agreement.
  • Staying alongside rather than mingling, reducing the fear of people not known so well joining the table or coming over to chat.
  • Ear defenders.
  • Arrange in advance who will fill your table so there are no surprises – again not always possible.
  • Accepting that sometimes it will all go belly-up and there will be tears.
  • On that note I try to make sure there’s inbuilt time for recovery afterwards – though again this isn’t always possible.
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  • Daring to decide it’s just not possible or helpful to get there at all this time , and making the decision to give it a miss – trying not to ‘feel’ that. This is a tough one for many of us – hugs may be required!
  • Taking a travel cot to use as a play-den when little. Added benefit of the mesh sides shielding some of the constant movement in the room in terms of visual sensory input. Also the familiarity helped sometimes.

 

I would love to hear your strategies as a family, if you also find yourself wanting to join in with fellowship lunches.