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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“let the little ones come to me”

Some weeks the big issues talked about in our home are chosen for us. B & A are now using social media and see the trending issues as they come and go. So of course we have been responding to the highlighting of the way the immigration policies have been implemented in the USA recently, particularly the separating of children and parents as they cross borders, economic migrants and asylum seekers alike. It has made no sense whatsoever to them seeing pictures of small children so terrified, taken away from parents in a strange new place. They have wondered why, wanted to understand, and wanted to do something to stop it.

I share their concerns. And I found yesterday’s social media feeds difficult. I read wanting to know truth, wanting to respond and act to the true situation. Wanting wisdom, and a stronger heart with bigger, braver love. Jesus rebuked the disciples saying ‘let the children come to me’ (Matthew 19:14), he also of course told us to ‘love your neighbour as yourselves’ (Luke 10) – quite a few times, and to clarify also followed it up with the story of the good Samaritan in case we were wondering about the fine print. I want a heart like his, not one that scrolls quickly past the pictures of children hurting and hungry, suffering in a world full of injustice, so many pictures from so many places both in the headlines and not, but in my social media feed because of the charities I follow I guess. Displaced people is one of the big issues of the day, and so our immigration policies and how they get implemented are of huge concern. There are concerns in my heart about UK policies and implementation of policies too. I don’t for a second feel complacent that we are acting justly, respectfully, humanely as people come to our borders either.

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There is possibility and opportunity for our policies and response as countries and communities to be a blessing to so many people in need right now when you stop and think about it – thinking outside the baggage – and the flip side is of course that there is possibility and opportunity for our policies and response to cause more trauma and lasting damage, more hurt and division long term.

Before we moved to Nottinghamshire we had more opportunities in the everyday of life to practically respond to displaced families looking for asylum. In our church family we got to know families and individuals from all sorts of different places around the world, B & A got to know them, we heard their stories and felt their pain as they shared what they had left and shared their hopes as they navigated their way through the very complicated and clumsy asylum system here. But what for T where we live now? It is not in the everyday encounters that she will hear and feel the experience of displaced people. It is something that if I want her to learn I will have to be intentional about.

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Our church supports a project in Nottingham itself which supports refugees and asylum seekers so that is one very obvious way. In fact we have a fundraising quiz night coming up very soon, and someone from the Rainbow project will be coming to tell us a bit about what they do! Good timing. Of course there are also the families we are still in touch with from where we used to live, including our beautiful godchildren. And continuing to cultivate a culture at home of discussing, exploring and asking questions, bringing faith into all of that and trying to live out the things we discover matter, trying to make a difference.

IMG_20180620_203437811_LLSo, needless to say really yesterday my instinct was to end the day with T by steering the bedtime book choice towards a lovely thoughtful book called ‘The colour of home’, by Mary Hoffman & Karin Littlewood. It tells the story of the first day at school in England of Hassan, a boy from Somalia. Through his painting his teacher is able to speak with him through the language barriers and begin to understand and know him. It is gentle, age appropriate without glossing over the reality of fleeing from home because of violence and conflict. The pictures are wonderful, full of life and colour.

I also ordered a new book (which of course I will tell you about as soon as we have it) which came up on my facebook timeline during the day yesterday – the only thing I shared into the discussion! – written by a child, Fraiser Cox, called ‘There’s a boy just like me’ and Bedtime Story Winner 2017. The more books like this on my shelves the better!

fun memory verse ideas

We are very caught up in revision at the moment, right in the middle of exams for B.

There are a lot of things to remember – not my best skill! (thank you long term sleep deprivation & anxiety) – formulas in science, definitions, quotes in English and RE. B actually has a really really good memory, and if she is engaged in the learning – if focused, definite, clear cut things get stuck so quickly.

Yesterday we were praying before leading our junior age church club, Blast, and listening to T beeping the numbers on the church key safe to help by getting the keys to open the main doors. She’d been allowed to do the code once before a few days previously and of course, yes, she could do it. The number sequence was at her fingertips. To me that kind of memory seems like a superpower! I simply cannot remember number sequences at all, and am pretty hopeless at recalling definite factual information from memory.

For me, remembering and being able to bring to mind verses from the Bible effort has to be intentionally put in. I know I want to. I know it’s not going to come easily. I know I have to put in the work. With all the focus on revision though at the moment, I am questioning whether I am sharing that hope and expectation about Bible verses. Do B, A & T even think about why or if its important to know verses and be able to bring them to mind? Am I sharing with testimony with them, of times when verses have powerfully changed a situation or strengthened me or someone else? They are naturally gifted with the ability to remember, am I encouraging them to remember the Bible?

I remember a season with A when he was facing night after night of nightmares which were vivid and difficult to move on from and find rest again. We taught him a tiny snippet of scripture;

‘…perfect love drives out fear…’ (1John 4:18)

thinking together about who we knew who was perfect love, and how strong a word ‘drives out’ is. Over a stretch of nights we spoke it before sleep, and when the nightmares came showed him how to speak it out and cling onto Jesus who is perfect love. We imagined Jesus like a superhero/ninja standing tall and kicking his fears out of the door, down the stairs and out into the driveway. We imagined him coming back into A’s room and standing guard till his angels took over again. Sometimes we actively did the kicking alongside Jesus, kicking his fears out of the room as we reminded each other that Jesus, perfect love, was with him fighting for him. We learnt it to the point when some nights we simply spoke out ‘perfect love’ as we sat with him, welcoming Jesus in and waiting for sleep to come again. It reminds me how precious scripture is for our children, how much I want them to delight in it and know it.

So some fun ideas to learn memory verses:

  • love this idea from #flamecreativekids of a dice race… who can be first to roll the dice and be able to say the verse in order.
  • of course, I’m immediately reaching for doodling and colouring… my latest colouring verse was designed for a friend leading an after school club wanting a verse to reflect on.

 

  • following #godventure on social media means I now have the yummy idea in my head of icing parts of a memory verse onto different cupcakes so they can be arranged, remembered and eaten! Love the symbolism of that.2016-06-11 10.19.17
  • using lego, bricks or playing jenga with words from the verse on the blocks.
  • Making up actions to go with the words.
  • Enjoying a song that uses the words, T would be wanting to dance too.
  • Making a nature or magazine collage of the verse together and pinning it up in the kitchen.
  • playing charades to find the words
  • a treasure hunt for the words
  • make bunting or a set of decorations that can display the verse. IMG_20180602_232001_387
  • using different voices, or accents (both T & A find this funny)
  • use fabric pens and design a T-shirt or a tote bag with the verse on.
  • challenge each other to see who can use the verse in everyday conversation!

Please do comment with your favourite ideas for fun memory verse learning!

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!

 

 

Ten questions about prayer

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I’ve written before about praying in our family life… the ups and downs, the triumphs and perceived failures. Prayer is right in there at the heart of a life of faith, right there at the heart of what it is to live as a Christian. And it seems to me that, in our family at least, there are quite a number of questions about it that hang around in the background of the practical ways and opportunities that we use together to pray as a family. Sometimes it’s good to look the questions in the eye and ask myself – am I helping my children to learn about these? Am I giving them opportunities to gain experience that will help them find answers? Am I modelling and talking about prayer in ways that helps with these questions or that makes it all the more confusing?

  1. Why? Why do we pray? I think this goes hand in hand with ‘do I have to?’, and for me I see this question being mulled over, often unspoken, at bedtimes when we have an expectation of a habit of prayer before sleep. We have tried to pray with our children as an integral part of their bedtime routines since they were tiny. And we have certainly prayed for them at this part of the day since they were babies. Our children know that before sleep, we pray. And sometimes the pressure of that expectation actually forces this question – but why???, or do I have to???2016-03-03 10.19.20 The word ‘prayer’ is from middle English, adopted from the Anglo-Norman which in turn is from the Latin meaning ‘to earnestly beg’. But our word prayer is used to translate a number of Hebrew words, and also a number of Greek words in the Bible not just one. And they mean more than ‘beg’, there are words meaning worship, to represent someone to the judge, to bend towards, to bow, to hope and to trust. So am I making this rich breadth of meaning clear to my children if the word ‘prayer’ is my default way of inviting them to talk with God? If I long for my children to experience prayer as a scared space of connecting, talking, listening and being in God’s presence – as something worshipful and relational – then it would help them if I were to model all sorts of ways of praying, and talk about my own experience of coming close to God in prayer.
  2. Does prayer work? I ‘hear’ this question being wondered about when I sense them getting disheartened that they feel their prayers have ‘not been answered’ – or in other words they haven’t been given what they asked for. I think this question also ties in with knowing more and more what prayer is all about – that it is more than a wish list that we read out to God. I think it also plays into our growing understanding of who God is and his purposes. I want to say more often than I do ‘God is not a slot machine, prayer is not us putting in the coin’. front cover 3.pubI want to help my children pray boldly when they have requests for God and I want them to experience God always answering their prayers – and learning to look for those answers beyond their expectations. I wonder if I am sharing my experiences with them, am I telling my stories of answered prayer? I want them to know that God doesn’t always just say yes but he always listens, and always answers whether that’s with a yes, or a not now, or a no. This seems to be quite a tricky one for all of us to get our heads around so I’ve been busy writing a book to help explore this. It’s called ‘So many answers!’ & it will be available very soon! (I’m very excited!!)
  3. Who am I talking to when I pray? The other questions behind this might well be ‘who is God, is that the same as Father God?’, ‘who is Jesus?’, ‘is Jesus God?’, ‘who is the Holy Spirit?’. Am I ready for these questions? I wonder which parts of the Bible will help me to share with my children what Christians believe about God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Could I turn to the story of creation where it talks about the Spirit hovering over the waters, and God is described as ‘us’, and then turn to the beginning of John and look at how the Word (Jesus) was there from the very beginning creating our world? Maybe I could draw a picture together with my children about when Jesus was baptized and he heard the Father’s voice, and saw the Spirit fall on him? Have my children heard prayers begun in different ways, addressing Father, Jesus, Lord, Creator God, Spirit…?
  4. Is God really listening? Is God really there? My children are logical, often literal in the way they make sense of their world. When we pray we don’t generally ‘see’ God there with us physically. He is different from us. It is mind-blowing and mysterious to think of God being close, ever-present, like us (we are in his image) yet so different (holy, eternal…), invisible yet we can talk together and be in his presence. It can be hard to accept the unseen, intangible is real. 20170212_114109Yet thankfully my logical, often literal children are very keen scientists! So I can use examples of other invisible-to-our-physical-eyes, intangible things we can experience that they have no problem believing are real – electricity, forces, dimensions, air, atoms, gravity… We see and experience the effects of these things despite not seeing them. In a similar way we see and experience the effects of God’s presence. Am I listening and watching for their experiences of God’s presence and naming it? Am I sharing testimony of things that inspire me in faith? Am I praying for their faith to increase, and for them to experience God’s presence in deeper ways?
  5. Does God ever speak back? How can we explore the many ways God seeks us out and speaks to us? The Bible stories, Moses, Saul/Paul, Samuel all come to mind to chat about. How am I facilitating my children broadening their experience through chatting with other Christians, hearing about their experiences and answered prayers; listening to how others have been guided by the whisper or the thundering voice of God, or by pictures and dreams.
  6. What am I allowed to pray about? Am I letting my children see me send urgent arrow prayers through the day; rejoice and praise; trust God with worries, difficult questions, heartache; are they able to join us in our ongoing intercessions? Am I still carving out opportunities to invite them into prayer at different times and circumstances? Have I, and do I clearly give permission to my children to talk to God about absolutely anything and everything?
  7. How can I choose the right words? or ‘is there a right way of praying?’, or ‘what happens if I get it wrong?’. 20171115_110630[1]When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray they were probably asking the same question. Jesus gave them an invitation which of course begins ‘Our Father…’ – an invitation to come close to the perfect loving Father who knows us better than we will ever know ourselves. Knowing who we come to, and realizing prayer is about relationship, family time means we can come without fear of failing to pray ‘right’. I wonder how many different ways of praying my children have been a part of? Have I been only using liturgical prayers, or only extempore prayer, do we actively encourage meditative prayer, imaginative Ignation prayer, sung prayers… are we getting a variety of experiences?
  8. When should I pray? I suppose I’m asking myself similar questions as I did for qu 6. What am I modelling for them in my own prayer life? do they see I have a prayer life? And am I prompting or enabling praying at all times and in all circumstances?
  9. Does God want me to pray? I want them to find out more about God’s delight in us coming into his ever-with-us presence when we pray, how he wants to speak to us about things beyond our imagination and expectations, and about how his love for us can be known in every single answer he gives us. How often am I praying for them to know God’s love for them deeper and deeper? How often am I speaking Father God’s love over them and into them? And, am I showing them that love in the way I parent?
  10. Does my prayer change anything? Won’t God do what he has already decided to do? C.S. Lewis said of prayer ‘it doesn’t change God, it changes me!’. Mother Teresa said ‘I used to believe prayer changes things. Now I know prayer changes us, and we change things.’ Exploring this question is so closely tied to exploring why we pray, and who we are talking to when we pray. And it touches on another mysterious paradox too, we are predestined yet have freedom to genuinely live our own way; God is sovereign yet he invites us to become part of his work in the world; God knows what is before us, and what will happen, he knows our prayers before we even think them but he longs for us to be part of it, he asks us to intercede for others, to talk to him. Am I ready to hear my children’s questions here, and acknowledge the paradox, and be alongside as they discover we can’t understand God fully or pin him down, but that we can know he invites us into his presence because it’s home, it’s where we find everything we need to truly thrive. Prayer changes us.