Being thankful

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Autumn is here! A time for gathering in and taking stock. Plums, apples & whatever soft fruit and veg I have successfully grown. It’s a time of change and a time for re-grouping somehow I always feel. And of course a time of thankfulness. For us crunchy leaves also mean birthday season – so much to give thanks for. But it’s been a tough month to be honest… with so much newness everything seems to have taken a lot more energy than usual. So I’m looking for practical, calming activities to remind myself to give thanks and count all those blessings!

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Doodle thanks I can’t help but doodle my way through life, so this one wasn’t hard to find. Simple… paper and a pen, add a few things when you have a moment to sit down each day. Wouldn’t it be great to display a whole family’s set of doodle thanks. Or maybe start a big communal poster that everyone can add to throughout autumn!

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Jars of thanks: again, not a new idea. We have collected thanks in jars at other times too. It’s lovely to fill a jar together over a few weeks and then have a celebration get together and read them all out. A prayerful activity that grows gratitude in us. These jars were washed out plastic hot chocolate jars (quite astounding how many of these I accumulate!) decorated with foam stickers. We made them at our church’s monthly accessible service.

 

Contemplative colouring: a new design for our celebration of Harvest at church. Please follow the link to print out a copy and enjoy. The idea came to me as I was thinking about surviving those downpour moments in life, when you feel under a cloud and nothing is easy or going smoothly. As I chatted to God about how tough things felt we imagined this together, going one step further than ‘learning to dance in the rain’ we turned the umbrella over and began collecting the rain. I was reminded of the imagery of God’s blessing being poured out, being like rain on thirsty ground. So much rain that it is more than enough blessing for me and for me to share with others. Abundant blessing in the midst of the storms of life. It helps me to stop with an activity like this and deliberately become more aware of the blessings God pours into my life, it makes thankfulness bubble up again.

Books: There are so many good books out there that help us explore thankfulness, and get us talking about gratitude. ‘The world came to my place today’ by J Readman & L Roberts is great for thinking about how many other people and places have had a part in bringing what we need and want to our homes. The classic ‘Wonderful Earth!’ by N Butterworth & M Inkpen is one I go back to over and over again which helps us think about taking care of the gift of creation. Someone recently reminded me of Pollyanna by E H Porter, and the glad game. It’s not one we have so it’s now ordered and on its way! My own book ‘My Easter egg hunt’ explores all that Jesus has done for us and ends with an emphasis on our thankful response.

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Bible story: Looking at the story of the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus would be interesting. Mina has a lovely way of retelling the story over on Flame Creative Kids  It would be fun to go on and each make a chain of 10 paper people, and challenge ourselves to have said thank you 10 times by the end of the day. Or perhaps make some gingerbread men to help us remember.

Bunting: We have often made decorated paper bunting – I have hooks at the ready on one of the kitchen walls. Paper cut into triangles or flag shapes, newspaper, colourful plastic bags, pressed flowers – you get the idea…almost anything can look great as bunting. For thankfulness, at Harvest or Thanksgiving time how about leaves. Decorate with metallic sharpies or marker pens, writing or drawing some of the things we are thankful for. Then laminate them (may need to go through the laminator more than once) and they will keep their colour and hang really well. A hole punch at the top of each and as simple as that you have autumn thankful bunting.

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Knowing God’s voice

‘God answers our prayers’

‘God is always with you’

‘He will help you’

‘God will guide us’

2012-05-13 12.29.31These are all phrases we often use when trying to put words to our faith and hope in God as Christians. At the moment they are often met by T with questions and doubts: ‘how?’, ‘I can’t see him!’, ‘he doesn’t talk to me’. The thing is our words and phrases express our experience of mystery. Our faith is in a concrete, true, eternal God but our experience of Him is not tangible in the same way as a hug with a friend or parent. We don’t hear answers to prayer audibly (very often!) in the same way as a teacher answering our question. The way God’s presence faithfully stays with us as we trust Him is not visible to our eyes in the same way as we see and hold onto our comfort teddy throughout the day. We experience glimpses, senses of these intangible realities through faith and God’s grace (his free gift).

 For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma], but then [when the time of perfection comes we will see reality] face to face. Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God]. (1 Cor 13:12 AMP)

We learn to see with eyes of faith rather than physical eyes, and to hear with our listening, quietened soul – our inner self reaching out for God. We learn to feel his real presence with us. We learn to recognize the physical markers as our bodies and spirit respond to spiritual realities we cannot see or touch physically. A quickened heart beat; the unexpected calm flooding our body and feelings quite independent of our circumstances; a beyond-our-own-courage; an inexplicable warmth; a moment when our own inner monologue is at rest and a new word drops in; goosebumps; when our body and spirit feels the same relief as it does when it can slump into the lap of home – our favourite sofa, in our favourite safe space where we belong and know we are unconditionally loved. We learn the sounds, and touch, the tastes and smells of the mystery that is our living God coming near and walking alongside us unseen and intangible. This is a lifelong adventure of love, of being known and getting to know.

Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!” (Jn 14:7 MSG)

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These are things I hope I can model and articulate as Mum to B, A & T. Finding ways to explain the mystery takes me out of the box. We have talked about how we get to know a voice to the extent that we recognize and respond to it even when we don’t see the person. The game where you have to close your eyes and listen with your whole body to be ready to spot someone coming to steal the keys or bells, or a game where we are blindfolded and have to identify the person by voice or smell can remind us of how our body feels when someone is familiar, how our bodies can recognize and respond to someone’s presence. They also remind us how difficult it can all be! That’s quite useful to throw into this discussion. We have spent time talking about the vast number of things we trust are real that we cannot see with our physical eyes, or hear with our physical ears – when you stop and think about it there’s so much we take for granted as real that we cannot see and hear. Germs; wind; atoms; electricity; energy; love. Believing that these things are real is something we do already. Talking about, and living out, spiritual things as real and living rather than just ideas on paper or in a book invites discussion and exploration.

Practicing being in God’s presence together – in prayer, in worship, in questioning, in praise and thanks, in quiet, reading the Bible  – needs to be intentional for us, it’s the thing that so easily takes second place to everything else life throws at us. It’s difficult. Mealtimes, bedtimes and mornings are already a battle ground full of demands. I don’t want activities that invite us to draw close to God to feel like another demand, or another chore on the long list that has to be done at certain times of day. As I have said before, I try to simply be ready! There are bibles on every shelf and I love to read from them when they are picked for bedtime stories. We pray together when we can, in ways that we can – and try not to get worked up when we can’t or when things really don’t go well. We listen to worship songs in the car, and sing them out in the garden and as we walk. We say our arrow prayers and arrow bursts of thankfulness out loud. We name it when we feel God’s presence or guidance, or when God gives us peace or courage. I don’t ever worry about doubts – they open discussion, and invite exploration together. I don’t need all the answers for I speak about mystery and point to our living God who is already drawing close to our children.

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When it’s just too much to write

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So I’ve been busy – busy feeling guilty about not writing! Having tried to write really regularly missing 3 weeks has actually been hard. But there has been such a lot going on, and when I’ve had time I haven’t had enough energy, and when I’ve had the energy not the time!

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Well this week we are camping, and today is a wet day. So I thought why not share my view with you. Here I am surrounded by Lego and discarded crisp packets having already been to the gorgeous little stream and dabbled, paddled & doodled. The cousins and mine are plotting and planning Minecraft realms which they share, so here I am with a space to breathe.

To fill you in we have helped lead the holiday club at church. It was a good week, lots of laughter, games, crafts and chatting faith. T had some friends from school with her in her group which she enjoyed. For the first time A was a young leader, he was good at it… and even became the model for his groups technicolour Joseph coat.

Then we rushed our packing and set off to New wine, the Christian conference we go to each summer. This year we experienced our very own miracle – for the first time T went to every session of her age group meeting with the support of our place (new wine’s inclusion stream) which in turn meant I could go to every single morning session and seminar. That was such a blessing. Great grounded teaching from Jo Saxton about us being ordinary people in the hands and purposes of our extraordinary God. Refreshing worship and real encounters with God. Encouragement and challenge and opportunity for prayer ministry.

New wine is always about community. A practical reminder that I cannot, and am not meant to be able to do it all alone. I am made to live in interdependence with others in my community and the family of God. It is so easy to find myself, in the middle of the kinds of chaos we have in our family life wanting to withdraw and somehow protect myself and children from perceived judgement or misunderstanding from others. I really need regular reminders of how much I need others, of how I am not made to do this in isolation – however difficult that sometimes feels.

And this week we continue with community, camping with my sister & her kids. It’s great to share parenting, meeting the kids needs and enjoying time with them and each other. As a result of my planning ahead I signed us up to the RSPB wild challenge and that has steered us through some lovely nature based activities (that I brought a few bits to help us be prepared for) that we have had fun with. We have stargazer Found wierd and wonderful many legged sea creatures in rockpools and made art from leaves. There has also been a soggy beach visit! A surprise meet up with friends at a castle! Unexpected cuddles with cornsnakes and meercats. And a very very steep uphill walk or two. (Plus lots of biscuits & chocolate into the mix!)

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transitions and anxiety

Monday was ‘transition day’, the day when our local family of schools all have a taster day for the following year, whether that’s the next class in the same school or in a new school altogether. A day to meet the teacher, meet your new class mates and get familiar with the routine and lay out of a new place. For T it’s a change of schools, up to juniors. For A just a change of tutor and timetable. And also Tuesday was leavers assembly and prom day for B, really making it clear that the familiar routine of school is finished and it’s time to try and get used to the idea of college in September.

Add into that sports day, talent show rehearsal, school musical rehearsals, doctors appointments, unexpected visits to family, the house beginning to fill up with church holiday club scenery and its been quite a time since my last post, with huge amounts of anxiety, plenty of avoidance, tears and clingyness.

T is getting a lot more confident with reading at the moment, and as we walked to school this morning she read ‘transit’ on the back of a van.

“That van says transition day Mummy”

“It does have the beginning of that on it doesn’t it. It says ‘transit’, it’s a transit van”

quizzical look.

“Transit means to move something. The van is designed to help us move things. Transition means moving from one thing to a new thing”

“It’s moving me. Transition day was about moving me to a new school?”

“Exactly”

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Movement is a funny thing, it can be soothingly repetitive (as long as you are the one in control of that movement I think – nothing more irritating that someone else’s pacing or tapping!), it can on the other hand cause motion sickness, or dizziness, or tinnitus on days when nothing is still or quiet for a second. Movement can be exciting, getting us to places and people we’ve been looking forward to being with. It can be scary, getting us to unfamiliar or stressful places and people. Movement is tiring. It is tiring to think that life could be thought of as perpetual transit! But life is full of movement, of transitions.

When I got home from the school drop off (which by the way was really stress free this morning! Always unexpected and a relief) I played with Padfoot & Jaffa for a bit (trying to make sure they get good attention before I get stuck into work) and when they got tired they both climbed onto my knee and flopped to sleep purring loudly. It was beautiful. But I was kneeling on the kitchen floor, so soon my ankles were going to sleep, and my knees aching (must be getting old!), so I tried to gently move. Not even the smallest movement was possible without waking them. Eyes opened, ears pricked up as if to say ‘what? why? where?’ They readjusted, shuffled, tried to get floppy comfy again every time but the movement stopped them feeling safe and relaxed. After a couple of attempts of freeing my ankles and sitting differently they hopped off in disgust and went to find a predictable, un-moving resting place – where they have happily stayed curled up as I am writing.

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They remind me of my girls. No matter how gradually, how small each movement, transitions make them twitchy and uncomfortable. They are unsettled by it. They both find it really difficult to visualize an unfamiliar place or event, they cannot prepare for change easily without support. So anxiety is high, meltdowns increase, and sensory overload is pretty much round every corner because senses are heightened when they are in constant alert.

There are things that can support transitions.

  • Good visual social stories can help with visualizing the unfamiliar and are tangible, and can be referred to over and over (and over) again.
  • A visual timetable for the transition, with definite dates and times.
  • Collecting factual information about the unfamiliar event or place.
  • chocolate (- that’s just for me!!)
  • A visual timetable in advance (and taken along) of each small step of the transition.
  • Doing the steps with someone familiar alongside.
  • Practice walks of new routes, or places.
  • support with emotions, identifying them and ‘sitting with’ them as they come and go.
  • prayer!
  • A steady pace with rests – not always possible of course! Grab resting places wherever you can (time with special interests, chances to zone out)
  • patience!
  • Keeping other things as steady and familiar as possible while change is happening – again not always possible but usually we can find something that can stay constant even if it is something as seemingly insignificant as not changing the bedding until next week if it’s all a bit much this week.

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is selfcare selfish?

So, it’s been a pretty full on week in the Porter household. GCSE exams began in earnest – a full timetable this week, and study leave starting on Monday; Paediatrician appointment for T (and all the next steps admin to do afterwards!); dentist for B,A & T; Thy Kingdom Come prayer room to set up at church… etc, etc. Plus of course the little extras  like a grit-filled grazed knee (never easy with sensory processing difficulties).

Needless to say I woke up this morning feeling pretty rotten really. Tired, weary, and my body feeling stressed through and through.

I am learning as I get older (prob not wiser!) that mornings like that are a sign I need some time out and some head-space. Thankfully it’s been a flexible enough day for that to happen really easily and I’ve been pottering in the garden – while the kids are at school. But it is difficult not to feel guilty!

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Andrew doesn’t get the same chance, so here I am pottering in the sunshine while he is busy finishing prep for Sunday, and taking a few forgotten items down to church for the prayer room. And later, when we’re all back in he’ll be the one cooking dinner – and highly likely clearing up afterwards too! The house around me is in a serious mess as always (I hold on tight to the saying ‘a tidy house is a sign of a wasted life’!!), and the loos need cleaning, clothes need washing, bed covers need changing – and I’ve already pulled back from some of the busy things of the week to try and prevent this feeling – and all I can think right now is just how desperately I need some space, some less intense, down-time before school finishes and it all gets going again. Health professionals, friends, the TV all tell me self-care is important… but what does it mean as a Christian? I was brought up on verses like these, and the example of wonderfully busy, always-helping-people parents:

 ..don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work. (MSG Colossians 3:23)

Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:58 NIV)

Isn’t self-care giving up, failing to meet these high standards?? Not being strong enough, good enough, enough?? Is self-care selfish?? It’s true, I sit here wishing I were stronger, more capable, that my body was more resilient and didn’t get so overwhelmed by anxiety symptoms so very often! But actually that is the body and mind I get to work with, that is my gift from God and it’s vulnerable, fragile, and real at the same time as being thoughtful, creative, tenacious. I simply cannot do more, and on days like these stopping for a bit is necessary if I am to stay well enough to be of any use to my family let alone anyone else, but is that an okay thing to think as a Christian?

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field… (Psalm 103:13-15 NIV)

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I don’t know the answer – if there is one! But I do know I am a child of a Father full of compassion who knows better than I do just how my body works and keeps going, who knows how my mind, my emotions and body all hold together and who loves me. The same Father who gave us a rest day as a pattern for good living. The same who took Elijah to the stream and let him sleep when he felt he couldn’t go on, then fed him, and let him sleep some more. Maybe instead of self-care I could do with rephrasing what’s essentially needed on days like this – not self-care, rather Daddy daughter time… time to rest, sleep, eat under his watchful eye, and allow him to care for me before sending me back to it (13 mins till I set off for pick up!) keeping close enough to sit me down again when I next need a breather. It’s possible I could live with that!