Church – just part of the furniture of play

Much of my non-work time at the moment is spent in the dining room – or more specifically in Flower-lake City, T’s playmobil town. As you can see over the Christmas break a huge number of different buildings and sets have been put together, carefully arranged to form a town with a main street alongside an out of town area for the stables and the conservation and animal rescue center. It has given us the opportunity for hours (yes literally hours, I really wouldn’t want to keep count!) of storytelling, co-operative play (as long as I do & say exactly as I’m told of course; any of you with any experience of PDA will know what I’m talking about) imagination and stretching our thinking, and sharing outside the box.

As you can imagine it’s not always smooth sailing, there have of course been the usual obstacles because it is incredibly difficult for T to share the imaginative space and story tell with me. Sometimes we have to replay till I get it right, other times I get away with a suggestion or my own twist on what’s required – quite often with a lot of giggles. We’ve had a few moments when cats have wanted to join in too, which have proved a little tricky to navigate without meltdown. Those moments have brought back vivid memories of having to call A a ‘Giant’ whenever B’s games were changed or ‘ruined’ by her baby brother crawling or walking through – especially when he picked things up en route. Giving A a character took the intensity of the reaction away from him a little and over time became more of an expected part of the stories we played out with the dolls, marbles or whatever figures of choice we had organised.

The very first building as you go into Flower-lake city is a church. Over Christmas we had an exciting event in the community. Izzy & Charlie got married – we had no church at the time, and so we created a very outdoor wedding which suited them very well. But T got thinking, and Daddy made suggestions and our community church was created. A building that was in the loft (thank you Aunty E!), origionally a school building was found and cleaned and with a bit of card and imagination transformed into a welcoming church. Rev Ricky joined the town as our minister – still in need of a planned wardrobe change so she has a collar but very much becoming part of the furniture of the town.

What’s been so lovely to watch is the way Rev Ricky has got involved and the way the community has been using the building. I’ve found it so exciting to see T’s own experiences of church being played out so positively. To be honest sometimes (esp over the pandemic) I wonder if church is a positive for T at all.. or if she even wonders at why we do what we do. So what an encouragement. Rev Ricky has come in to do assemblies in the school – which is next door to the church, just as our church infants school is where we live. Most days she fetched the snacks and drinks for the school kids and drops them off. PE lessons have happened in the church space – with the stack of chairs neatly at the back out of the way of course – health and safety!

And when it’s church day in Flower-lake City a lot of the families come to a service, during which the children have their own teaching groups – acorns and mighty oaks (I’m pretty sure B helped name these groups one day when she popped in) – and they have their own notice boards to display their art work in the church building. Next plans Rev Ricky has are a mid week acorns group for the babies, and a movie night – always a favourite here where we live. I’m not going to lie, its also been a lovely excuse to do some mini crafting at the same time as trying my hardest to assist in the play as I’m asked to!

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!

 

 

We can’t go to church tomorrow: Being church differently during Coronavirus

Andrew and I, like most of us, have had a week trying to get our heads around the impact government advice about Coronavirus and covid-19 is going to have on everything. From the food in our cupboards, access to education, concern for the vulnerable it is going to affect the whole of life for at least the next weeks and months. As I write this T & B are finally asleep, it has been an anxious evening with repeated checking of temperatures being needed for reassurance, and many many questions. Andrew & I are self isolating until Tuesday having been in close contact with someone who has been told they have the virus. It has brought it all into sharp focus.

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Church is going to have to look and feel a bit different as we follow the ever changing advice, and as Andrew particularly works on those adaptations it is even harder knowing we cannot be there tomorrow to be in community and to give and receive reassurance of God’s presence with us and his love & peace for us.

How painful, at a time where anxiety is high not to be able to go into the heart of the family, the community where we find support. How odd to have to do so many things differently at a time when for so many of us the familiarity of routine would be so comforting.

In Andrew’s letter to our church family he has reminded us of the connections we can have through phone and social media, through care for each other – even if it can only be food or a message left on the doorstep. He also reminded us that there are resources on the church website – sermons to listen to, and online devotions.

As we go through these next few weeks I will also be linking to resources that we find useful as we seek to be church differently.

Do follow on Facebook, Twitter and here where I will post resources and printables that we can use at home to help create opportunities for worship, reflection serving others and finding peace in God’s presence together in our homes. 

faith adventure bags

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It’s been too long! I’ve missed being able to write.

We’ve been dealing with active school refusal (wish it could be called something else, it’s not really a choice) since Christmas. It has been a low level, continual rumble since she began school but has reached a crisis point that we don’t want to let unravel any further – so I’ve been rather out of routine myself as we’ve taken all that involves on – all that will be a different post perhaps when its the right time.

In the meantime I feel the need to share a joy-filled thing with you! There has been a new addition to our accessible service, ‘Sense of Space’, adventure bag library.

‘Sense of Space’ happens once a month in church, we’re a small fellowship of families all shaped in some way by disability, either seen or unseen. We meet to explore faith and grow in faith, to pray and worship using all our senses and very much learning together and from each other. Our adventure bags are a take home discipleship & devotional resource. My best description of them? I suppose they are an inter-generational, sensory rich, faith-story sack to dip in and out of during the time between our services to keep on adventuring with God.

This newest one is based on the wise and foolish builders. It’s in a bright yellow, soft touch bag. Thanks to a gifted early years specialist in our church it includes a beautifully made storm cloud with rain, along with a smooth, cold flat stone, a patch of rough sandy ground (made in hessian) and wooden bricks to build a house.

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Along with that – as with all the adventure bags, there is a key-ring full of ideas for adventures using the resources in the bag. Also the other collected together resources:

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I’ve tried to photograph so you can clearly see the authors and websites these are from. The colouring page drawn by Mandy Grace is from ‘ministry to children’, and the ABC scripture memory verses are from ‘unOrigional Mom’. Other suggestions include playing ‘Simon Says’ (listening and doing of course); a challenge to find out what ‘foundations’ are in the world of building & why they’re important; finding and reading the story in the Bible; using the studies included in ‘Discover how to read the Bible’ by Jeff White; a website to find out about Brother Andrew for children as well as the book for young people and adults; and a pot of play sand to explore and experience what sand is like & why it isn’t a great foundation for building.

All the resources are there to invite playful exploration and discussion that will nurture faith.

When we met last Sunday, a bag was being brought back having been enjoyed so once we’d all gathered we all listened to what had been tried, found out and enjoyed with an encouragement to choose one to take home! Couldn’t have been better if I’d planned it, it was a real encouragement to me.