waiting

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Last Sunday we helped lead our church’s very first ‘sense of space’ service – accessible worship space for families like ours, shaped by diff(dis)ability. We were so excited in the run up, happily busy with preparations and testing out of sensory bottles, coloured rice, sensory bin tables and writing lists and lists of ideas! We just wanted to do everything we could to begin well – to create a space that was safe, fun, interesting, sensory rich and God-filled, a place where families felt welcome and quickly at home.

Aptly we looked at the story of Simeon and Anna. Two who had been waiting at the temple for weeks, months, years, to see God’s promises come to pass.

How amazing it must have been to see an ordinary couple with a baby in their arms and for your heart to quicken as the Spirit let you recognize the one God was sending to fulfill all the promises his people have been waiting for! I can’t imagine the emotion of that very well… it’s huge, it’s intense, it’s electric. We tried to imagine him holding the baby and looking into Jesus’ face as he lets words of praise tumble out.

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“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss[a] your servant in peace.
 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.” (Lk 2:29-32)

Waiting is something we’re not very good at really in this family. We’re not always that good at sensing timings and quite often waiting is basically a long string of ‘what’s the time?’; ‘How many more minutes?’; ‘Is it the time now?’; followed up by a whole load of ‘NOW!!!’. At the moment T’s ‘NOW!’ is all about an up and coming birthday, and party so we’ll be having this conversation for another couple of weeks or so!

Waiting can be emotionally exhausting (for everyone!). It’s an unknowing, a limbo time. Sometimes it’s emotionally exciting, intense and exhausting all rolled together. Other times, like a test at school, or a medical appointment it’s a wait filled with growing anxiety and stress at what’s to come that no amount of fidgets, relaxation techniques or sensory rooms can remove until the dreaded event comes and goes.

welcome with fidgets

(thanks Charlotte for the photo)

So what is it like ‘waiting’ for God?? In one sense we don’t have to wait in the same way as Simeon and Anna, Jesus has come, the Spirit is with us 24/7, to speak, comfort, lead, weep & laugh with us! In another sense though we do still talk about ‘waiting on God’, about stilling ourselves enough to become aware again of his presence with us in the everyday; about quietening ourselves enough to hear his voice whisper to us Spirit to spirit – no I don’t mean being outwardly, physically silent and still (though I do believe in miracles!!), I guess I mean being open and ready to recognize his presence and his words. That’s actually quite hard to explain and to model in a visual way to my littlies, but it’s something I want to – and to be honest sometimes it’s something they model to me as we remind each other he’s with us!

There’s also another kind of waiting for God of course, when we ask for something – either to be provided or to be fixed, changed or healed – when we say Amen and then wait for the answer… this kind of waiting for God is also a challenge sometimes. We have very fixed ideas about what answer we’re expecting, we have even maybe visualized that answer as we have been praying so we know exactly what we’re waiting for, hoping for and looking for. It’s difficult to accept that sometimes God’s answer is very different, it can be better than we’d hoped for but look different and be difficult to spot, hard to recognize. Sometimes it can be better than we’d been imagining but can seem to be the worst answer in the world – the ‘no’ or the ‘not now’ is very hard to accept, so hard that sometimes I don’t think we even realize that’s the answer we’re hearing loud and clear if only we were able to recognize it. (In fact because I know how difficult this is, there is a book coming!! watch this space)

At ‘sense of space’ we prayed together at the end by waiting – by giving ourselves a little breathing space to quieten our hearts and minds, and open them up to become aware that God was really with us. I filled a cup with the sand we’d been exploring in earlier and we watched and waited for God as the sand was poured slowly out. No words (you see miracles do happen!) until the final drop fell, and in the stillness the smallest in the room let out a slow ‘wow!’.

The Lord is here – his Spirit is with us!

Lift up your hearts – we lift them to the Lord!

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shifting sand

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The seasons change as surely as the tide comes in.

A new term begins.

New adventures, new challenges. Back to a different pace and different demands on our time. Groups begin again, homework will loom, clubs after school all fitted around vicarage life and ministry again as that too changes gear for term time. Just like being at the water’s edge as it comes in some of us rush in wanting the excitement of the sudden cold wave crashing over our feet and some rush in and then jump back as each wave hits; others hang back wishing we could face the inevitable a little more gradually, feeling a little more in control! I guess most of us fluctuate between the options…

Standing in the edge of the waves as they come in lets you feel their unsettling tug, shifting the pebbles and sand under your toes as it pushes and pulls. With each back and forth they are lifted and adjusted, re settled into new arrangements and places. Change is unsettling, unpredictable. It’s the beginning of movement towards the unknown.

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Change also reveals what is constant, what is trustworthy. In the anxiety and stress of change we reach out for something steady and safe to hold onto, and some things we try to rely on wobble and others prove safe and strong. I love the paradox of the verse in lamentations. God’s love is both forever new and forever constant, faithful. It is in the ebb and flow of the change as we follow after his call, and yet is the solid, steady safe fixed point we can cling to.

B & I have begun using the ‘she reads truth’ app at bedtimes. We have been reading about God’s permanence in a changing, shifting existence. Tonight we were prompted to remember together that no matter what out circumstances or feelings, God’s word, God-truth is fixed… through every page of the Bible we hear God’s mercy-full ‘I Love you, I am coming to you’. It remains. It’s trustworthy. We can cling to it as things shift beneath our feet.

This is the way God put it: “They found grace out in the desert, these people who survived the killing. Israel, out looking for a place to rest, met God out looking for them!” God told them, “I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love! (Jer 31:3 MSG)

I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. (Jer 31:3 NRSV)

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sensory for rainy days

Whatever the weather we need regular sensory rich input in this family, especially when things are busy or there have been some particularly stressful events. Tonight on my way home from Rainbows with T it became very clear that more was needed – a 15 min walk took 30, it was raining and the feel of the water, the way you could collect water drops off the ends of umbrella spokes, the splash of puddles became utterly engrossing… it would have taken more like an hour if I hadn’t been nagging all the way home! It reminded me of B at a similar age, walks home from school on wet days were epic, and she would be so wet by the end we would need to wring her out! Wet through every layer of clothes, wellington boots full.

There isn’t always time for being out on rainy days, and sometimes it is too cold for it to be ok for them to get that wet outside. Here are some of my favourite sensory rich rainy day activities:

  • cornflour slime – so simple, and absolutely always a winner. Put cornflour into a bowl (fun in large or small) and add just enough water for it to be quite hard to get a spoon through, but gooey enough for it to slowly drip off the spoon when you hold it above the bowl. Apron on if there’s time, then simply give to the child… can provide food colouring to mix in – the mixing takes a lot of effort and so is remarkably calming, can provide extra bowls or plates, plastic spoons, knives & forks. Can add scent from food flavourings. Expect some mess, but leave it to dry afterwards and then it can easily be swept up. Don’t try to put it down the drain afterwards, again let it sit & dry out a little, then it can go into the bin

     

  • Painting not for the fainthearted but utterly brilliant! Most importantly choose a place which is easy enough to clean afterwards – if this is to be of use as a sensory input activity it has to be hands on & that is messy. Also have paper supplies at hand – as soon as one is finished I want to have a clean sheet seamlessly put in front of them, or the ‘in full flow’ painting just happens onto something else! When they 025_01were very small I laid paper on the kitchen floor on top of a large messy mat or newspaper and put ice-cream tub size pots with some (not a lot) paint in there on the floor too. Strip the child down to the nappy, place in the centre, and enjoy! The only job to do is to be ready to keep steering them back onto the paper, and to judge that perfect moment to end the activity. Andrew & I had a routine for the ending of this particular activity – it was warranted, it is very messy – he would run a bath when I placed B on the paper, and have it ready so I could pick her up and go straight there with her when we finished (at arms length if possible!).
  • Daytime baths are contained (on the whole), and easy to organise. We have a whole box of toys suitable to go in the bath but mine are equally happy with measuring spoons, plastic jugs, whisks, empty bottles and will pour, empty and fill for some time. Bubbles in the bath are a change – though with eczema aren’t helpful, we have also used blowing bubbles while in the bath which has worked but was tricky in that it was very exciting and so it was difficult to keep them sitting safely in the bath. Many dolls can be washed in the bath, barbies can go swimming, lego boats & houses on stilts are fun, and plastic toy animals are great too.
  • Cooking either real baking (which has the advantage of being edible, lick-out-able) or the indoor equivalent of potion making or mud pies with a few rationed basic ingredients like flour, semolina, rice etc. and some cake cases in a tin – to be honest it’s been a while since we encouraged that, T is very happy with the tub of baking beans and cake cases which is far less mess & waste.
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early baking with Nanny

  • sensory tray – an idea that came out of desperation I think, but we have a fairly deep sided large-ish wooden tray, and when B was little couscous rice, and lentils would get poured into it. sometimes she sat in it and enjoyed the feel of it on bare feet and hands. Other times I put cars or plastic animals in, or big spoons for scooping, or plastic garden tools which made good patterns and noises against the grains as well as scooping.
  • playdough goes without saying, it is great for calming, ordering, creative play. When you make your own playdough you can colour as you want, or can add scent, or even glitter. I use the cooked playdough method mostly (which is incidently good stress relief for me too, requiring plenty of hard going stirring as it heats), and when it has cooled enough the kids love kneading it till it’s glossy – it’s cosy warm and pliable.
  • 2015-12-07 23.04.49making sensory jars to use in a calming down space or that will fit into a handbag to come out & about with us is a lovely activity in itself. The treasure hunting for things to hide in it, the funnel and pouring of sand and glitter and the designing of the labels and ‘I Spy’ tag.
  • washing up – only carefully selected items not the whole family’s dishes after a meal, and with eczema not very often either! But it is well loved, and has a social element which many of the others don’t need to. This does need someone involved to dry up and keep the supply of safe items to wash.
  • marbles another quite by accident discovery when B was small, we found that marbles spin gently around a large wooden plate we have, making a beautiful noise, and satisfyingly gradually making their way to the centre. We have a marble run too, which is much noisier (a much more rattling noise) but sometimes that is just the thing.

What else do you find yourself reaching for? What do yours find calming & enriching?

 

THE goodnight prayer!

We have always tried to pray with our 3 before bed, right from the beginning, and have gradually encouraged them to join in and pray out loud too. Quite early on we discovered the need for a definite ending prayer that would unequivocally signal the end of prayer and the need to settle down to sleep. And so it came about that THE goodnight prayer came into being, a rather jumbled paraphrase of the blessing in Numbers… the first time we used it was from memory and from then on it has had to be the same!

“‘“The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
 the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
 the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.”’

(Numbers 6:24-26 NIV)

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“The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you, lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and give you His peace” – our rather imperfect version!

We found that when she was young B developed an elaborate set way of praying which did not change in structure, though over the years new names have been added in. It ended in her own unique way ‘… look after the whole world, the whole universe and you God. Amen. Now the goodnight prayer Mummy/Daddy…’

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Similarly with A prayer took on a structured pattern early on. The pattern has changed, and has been shaped by trying new ways of praying, and new questions to ask as we pray together. Most recently it has been influenced by the Ignation Examen idea of reflecting on the blessings of the day and recognizing God’s presence throughout the day.

With T we have she hasn’t easily adopted the goodnight prayer we use with the other 2. In fact on the whole she is rather resistant to praying before sleep! There are plenty of other times in the day when this isn’t the case so it’s not felt like a panic, but there is something significant, important about praying over them just before sleep, handing them over to God’s care while they rest. Also bedtime is the time for anxieties and stresses to get in the way of rest – prayer is vital, and I would love it if we found a way to help her to join in.

‘I can lie down and sleep soundly because you, Lord, will keep me safe.’

(Psalm 4:8 CEV)

We had a difficult time getting T to sleep again last night. There were real and paralyzing worries about dying and never seeing Panda & Pandy again, or me dying or of me left behind if she dies. We needed to pray out loud together and find the peace and reassurance God can give. And it suddenly came to me (I’m sure because we had spent the weekend with my Mum, and it had stirred in my subconscious) that she would relate to the goodnight prayer of my childhood, that my Mum or Dad would sing to me, or with me before sleep. She loves songs – it’s how she naturally talks to God such a lot of the time. So I asked if I could sing the goodnight prayer I always had at bedtime when I was little, when I was upset or scared. She agreed! So then I had to sing – it came flooding back as clear as if I was a child again, as I held her and prayed over her for God’s peace and protection. She liked it so much I think I sang it through about ten times! We may have found her goodnight prayer!

Lord keep me safe this night,

secure from all my fears.

May angels guard me as I sleep

till morning light appears.

How do you pray at bedtime? Is there a special goodnight prayer you use?

Review: Comfort in the Darkness

Rachel Turner’s book ‘Comfort in the Darkness’ is a series of devotional bible stories of people connecting with God, encountering him, in the night. Each is written as a narrative perfect for reading aloud, short enough for tiny attention spans and tired minds, and long enough to intrigue and invite.

I have read with T (6 yrs) & with B (15yrs), and both have enjoyed them and have engaged with the stories in different ways. They have prompted questions sometimes, discussion and sharing our own experiences of sensing God’s closeness.

“If your child asks a tough question that you can’t answer, feel free to say, ‘I don’t know. let’s find out together.’ … Enjoy your child’s curiosity about the things of God. It is one of the great and wonderful privileges we have – wading into the tough questions with our children, with no fear.” (p49)

B has been open to using the prayer after the stories. With T, I have been able to let our chat lead into moments of asking God to draw close, and a couple of times led to windows of quiet waiting together in God’s presence.

After each story are suggestions for discussion starters, and also prompts to help you enable your child to draw close to God. There are ‘parenting for faith’ sections at the end of each chapter too, with helpful reflections on the issues arising in the story, or practical ideas.

I am sure we will read through these many times in the years to come, and I think the reflections, suggestions and resources built into the book for me as a parent coming alongside my child as they grow in faith will mean that each time we come back we will listen and engage in a new way. I can imagine that each time we read we will build on knowledge and skills, and experiences of God from the previous time.

“We can model our trust in God’s ability to be present in dreams. We can help our children to understand that there are no limits to where God can go … Invite God to be part of their dreams…” (p96)

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I was particularly struck by this paragraph in the first story when I was reading aloud:

“The word of God can make all things happen, and with a few words he began his great creation. ‘Let there be light,’ God said. …

But God made a choice. He kept darkness, too. He saved it and protected it. He could have got rid of it altogether, but there was something about darkness that was important and special … He called the light ‘day’ and the dark he called ‘night’. He had great plans for both.” (p12)

I have become so used to night being associated with worry and stress, sleeplessness and the pressure to sleep that it has become quite a negative word I suppose. But here was an invitation to recollect that God treasures the night as much as he treasures the day. To see that God had plans for the night – and as we continued to read bedtime after bedtime it was clear that so many of the times God provided, rescued, guided, challenged and encouraged happened in the night.

Night as a set aside, retreat time with God is not the way I have been thinking of bedtimes, and has certainly not been the message I have been modelling to my children. So I have been challenged – in a good way, and feel I have been given some tools and pointers to change my thinking and my expectations about night! That has to be a good thing!

Isn’t it a wonderful thing that God wants to chat with us, and draw near to us … even (or perhaps especially) in the rather challenging nights (that don’t exactly feel retreat like) when it seems none of us can get much rest or peace. With ASD, anxiety, night terrors, bad backs, eczema and long term sleep deprivation nights are anything but sleep-filled in our house – but maybe they have been God-filled all along, I just needed a nudge to begin to see that more clearly.

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