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.

 

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.

Volunteering together

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Firstly, apologies for the unexpected gap in posts. It was a packed summer, and the new term feels similar! A few good friends are at my side reminding me I’m ‘doing too much’ for which I’m grateful – and am listening, but it’s not a quick fix – life is a bit of a juggling act of lots of demands on my time and energy and in the midst of it all I’m trying to be wise and listen to God’s prompting about what I should be filling each day with. One thing’s for sure – I’m missing writing!

One of the new things that has come into my week over the last 2 years is Girlguiding volunteering. In a way it has crept in, but I welcome it. It’s something the girls and I are all part of now. In fact just this last week we had a first planning meeting for a new Brownies unit and T, B & me all walked down and joined in together which was rather special (with hindsight, it was a bit full on at the time!).

I got involved when T was offered a place at Rainbows, she didn’t want to stay on her own so I stayed too and just helped out a bit where I could. When she moved up to Brownies we wondered if she would stay on her own if she joined the unit where B was volunteering as a young leader but she couldn’t do it very easily – and it was going to impact on B’s freedom to complete her young leader training so I stayed again. This time I began my volunteer leader training to be able to offer a bit more help.

To cut a long story short I find myself this term now heading up the Rainbows and also involved in leading a new Brownies unit – both at Holy Trinity Church.

It’s a bit of a roller coaster finding my feet with more to juggle, and at the same time collecting evidence for the leadership qualification but it’s great to be in it together. Girlguiding’s vision is to be a safe and nurturing space for girls. It has structure, purpose, is adventurous and has the potential to give girls of all backgrounds – and all abilities opportunities to gain life skills, practice teamwork and friendship and to experience things they might not without the group. The structure also has a clear pathway for girls to develop leadership skills, and begin volunteering and leading as they move through from Guides to Rangers and beyond which is what B has been doing.

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Of course B & I are really enjoying the creative side of planning, there may be some projects on the dining room table – again!! – a centerpiece floor mat for our circle time in Rainbows is well underway and should be ready for our first promise ceremony after half term.

There is something really lovely about joining in with something the girls want to be part of. It’s not been without its challenges by any means but I am getting to know some lovely people I perhaps wouldn’t have outside of Girlguiding, and am making the most of the way my girls (at the moment) want to be in it together with me. There may come a day when they don’t want that so I’ll enjoy it while I can.

 

understanding personal space

 

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excuse me – still here!

So how on earth do you begin to learn all about personal space, and respecting other peoples?? Everyone has a boundary at a slightly different distance. Relationship determines subtle yet important differences for each context. Different cultures have unspoken yet definite socially acceptable ‘rules’ about it. It’s not something that gets openly explained very often, yet we’re expected to get it right – every time, every social gathering, family meal, sharing of the peace!

For most of us it is learnt when we’re very young, one of those things that gets ‘picked up’ simply by being in relationships and experiencing a variety of social contexts. Learnt through picking up subtle body language cues; inference gleaned through experience; making connections between a variety of moments of cause and effect, carefully and correctly interpreted in the midst of social interaction. It’s a wonder it’s ever possible to get this right!

So what about those of us who don’t learn by inference? Or easily ‘read between the lines’? What if body language cues are a language yet to be learnt? And what if the way you see things leads to joining up the dots between cause and effect differently from everyone else, and connections are made therefore to different facts, different variables in previous moments of social interaction? How are the rules of socially acceptable interaction with others, understanding their personal space boundaries learnt??

I suppose the answer is, differently; from a different perspective; with an often refreshingly different approach and an analytical honesty that isn’t afraid of questioning a cultural norm.

I suppose the answer is also, painfully. Others don’t respond kindly to people seemingly ‘rocking the boat’, and openly questioning cultural norms – especially when expecting someone to be ‘old enough to know better’. Doing life differently can lead to feeling like an outsider or feeling disliked and unaccepted.

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special interests

 

Some call it obsession, some think it narrow

but in our family we love special interests;

with intensity, with all we’ve got

we focus, we explore, we research and find out.

Our knowledge creates a safe space in which we can curl up and rest.

Familiar and known.

Digging and drawing,

collecting and cuddling, playing and gaming,

gather the facts, devour the info.

It is expertise we can share.

Breathe it all in, get the sand between your toes,

the clarity of focus takes experience deep, deep, deeper;

you can taste it, smell it, know it.

It’s all or nothing,

all in, or not at all.

That’s the wonder and beauty of special interests.

And in the pursuit we see

fierce loyalty, tenacity against the odds;

a single-mindedness that isn’t swayed.

Peer pressure can’t touch this.

So yes, some may think it narrow, some think we obsess.

I guess some may even find it boring,

but in this family we love special interests.

In them we see echoes of a Creator, a Father’s heartbeat.

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