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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selective (not selected) mutism

It’s a very unhelpful name, selective mutism I think. If we were in the middle of a game of word association it might be followed by ‘choice’, ‘choose’, ‘select’. I can understand how it can so easily be misunderstood as ‘shyness’, ‘manipulative’, ‘oppositional behaviour’, ‘stubbornness’. We hear the phrase and immediately jump to the misunderstanding that the child is selecting when to speak and when not to. It’s more accurate to understand it as the mutism is selective, not the child. It gets it’s name from the way that the mutism is only seen in certain contexts and not in others not because it is implying choice.

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The most helpful way I’ve found of thinking of selective mutism is to focus on the physiological. It is known that in moments of extreme anxiety or panic the body’s fight/flight/freeze mode affects us physically. Our body’s hormone balances for example are completely upturned, in order to get ready to run or fight. One of the physical affects can be the seizing up of the muscles needed for speech – including the vocal chords. So in that situation of panic speech is simply not physically possible. And that is selective mutism. An outworking of extreme anxiety. For some this anxiety is seen in group contexts (even of familiar people); for others with strangers; for others it is in particular places; for some when under the pressure of a direct question; or simply in front of others. It stems from social anxiety, social phobia and anxiety about demands. Responding to selective mutism as if it is ‘stubbornness’ or ‘manipulative behaviour’, or ‘a shy phase’ ignores and adds to the anxiety.

Selective mutism can affect autistics as well as others. And it can make life very challenging, and scary – imagine needing something and being completely unable to ask for help and get support. It makes being in new situations and places especially difficult when you know you cannot stop and ask for directions or check something with the teacher or your classmates. It can make learning hard work when you are unable to ask for help or clarification. It can make friendships and social times, like lunch breaks, really challenging.

There is really helpful advice and explanations at SMIRA.

I especially like way the article ends:

 Celebrate your child’s unique qualities
We cannot change the personality of SM children – and wouldn’t want to! They are naturally sensitive individuals who take life seriously and set themselves impossibly high standards. The downside is a tendency to be overwhelmed by novelty, change and criticism; the upside is an empathetic, loyal and conscientious nature.

How to support?

  • be kind – patience not pressure
  • surprises add to anxiety
  • give more time than you think for an answer
  • praise achievements
  • disappointment and disapproval are definitely not wanted
  • support the anxiety
  • help find safe ways and places to calm and regulate
  • enable coping strategies for anxiety
  • remember it is selective but not selected

It is not easy to truly understand or appreciate another person’s experience of anxiety – we all get worried about things from time to time, and it’s all to easy to assume other’s worries feel and affect them the same way that ours affect us. Our expectations are too often shaped by our own experiences. But to be able to support we need to put those expectations to one side and take on board the extreme level of anxiety being experienced by someone with selective mutism. It is not a choice. It will not be easily and quickly ‘got over’ or ‘snapped out of’. It is quite paralyzing. And can be so very isolating.

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sensory pit-stops: invitations to find calm

We are counting down now to beginning a new term – new teachers, new classes, and for two of mine new schools. There is definitely a need for me to be providing and enabling as many calming sensory activities as possible – yesterday I just couldn’t keep up!

Our emotions and physical responses to them are so complex I wonder how any of us actually learn to regulate ourselves. For many of us no doubt it comes easier than for others. Certainly if our understanding and recognition of different emotions is still a work in progress then instinctive self regulation is going to be almost impossible. It has to be learnt. So the more varied and frequent opportunities to learn to become calm and collected when feeling huge emotions the better.

These are some of my favourite activities to leave out dotted around the house that can become calming sensory pit-stops:

  • cornflour gloop – best in a room with a wipeable floor: cornflour and just enough water to make a gloopy paste in a shallow bowl or tub. This is great, it gives a sensation of resistance when poked and pushed and also soft fluidity when dangled or allowed to ooze back into itself. To dispose of it afterwards I leave it to dry out a little and then put it in the bin. Bits on the floor or table leave to dry then brush and scoop into the bin. (It blocks drains if washed down the sink)
  • playdough – We make our own, and then for extra sensory input can give it a scent like lavender, citrus, peppermint etc. The best bit of making your own is that it needs to be kneaded like bread dough as it cools down and the warmth with the kneading is amazing… just check it’s not still very hot before you hand it over to the kids. (Our recipe came from a good friend: 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt, 2 tbsp oil, 2 tsp cream of tartar, 1 cup of water with food colouring in if desired… beat it together as it heats up in a saucepan.)
  • painting- not perhaps something I would leave out casually all the time but this can be really absorbing; big plain paper, brushes, sponges, fingers etc, paint & imagination.

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  • wobble board – we have a circular board with a curved underneath that was being sold as a toning piece of equipment for keep fit, but we use it simply for fun balancing. When movement and concentration come together it can prove very calming. And this can simply be left out in a place with some space to be used in-between things, or on the way from one part of the house to another.
  • Animals – in our house one of the key strategies for self-regulation is to spend time with animals. Before we had the kittens days like these would be better if the guinea pigs came in and were easily available for cuddles. Now of course the kittens are always to be found somewhere in the house, and thankfully they crave attention and fuss. The only problem is when the attention given to one of them becomes a stress trigger for a sibling- either because they are not ‘doing it right’, or the kitten was found in someone else’s space, or its not considered to be ‘their turn’… but despite those (very frequent) moments I still think being in physical contact with animals brings such a lot of calm and reassurance.
  • blankets – and hot water bottles which add weight and warmth. Always on the sofa and beds ready to snuggle up in, hide under or tuck in tight around you.
  • water – another I cannot simply leave out, but there are so many opportunities during the day whether it’s to encourage lingering over hand washing, helping with some washing up, or allowing some pouring play between jugs tubs and cups. And there’s always the bath & shower on a day without time pressure which for our youngest is probably one of the best ways to really ground her when very anxious. Yesterday we resorted to a bath in the afternoon – and I got time to clean the bathroom at the same time!
  • a familiar activity – whether it’s a film that’s been seen a hundred times, reading a book that is known word for word, or a puzzle that’s a favourite, or a sorting activity with buttons or marbles etc that always gets done in the same way, a familiar activity can be very soothing.
  • music – a tricky one to balance everyone’s different needs at any given moment but brilliant nonetheless. As I write A is playing the piano which he gets completely absorbed in. B likes to listen to music on headphones which shuts all other hustle & bustle out. T loves to move and sing, and tends to want music loud when she wants it. Dance mats, dance games on the Wii, and listening to songs over and over again seem to really help T… but for the sake of everyone else we try to manage how long each time! Another absorbing and regulating music & movement activity is hand clapping rhymes and other nursery rhymes. T still asks for ‘this is the way the lady rides’ (a bouncing on a knee rhyme), and loves ‘a sailor went to sea, sea, sea’ etc.
  • hugs! – almost always on their terms of course, but being available for regular deep squeezing hugs is essential – and so easy, no prep required!

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  • marble bowl – simply marbles in a shallow wooden bowl. They can be swirled, spun, sifted through fingers and listened to as they spin gradually getting slower and slower.
  • mini sensory bin – again a simple bowl or tray, with rice, pasta, cous cous or sand in that is simply available to arrange things in (small world play figures or stones, shells, beads etc) and feel.
  • balloons – not for everyone I know, but the process of blowing up a balloon slows breathing down, and makes us take deep breaths in. And they are really fun when you don’t tie them but fill them and let them go over and over. And for the daring moments when the thought of the clearing up doesn’t phase you, balloons with some water in that can be held (it has a weight to it) and that move about in your hand are fascinating too.
  • dens – safe, inviting spaces to retreat into and block out the hustle and bustle. Soft glow light, flumpy cushions, paper & pens to doodle with and some cuddly toys.
  • tearing and cutting – leaving out an old newspaper or magazine with scissors if that’s appropriate. Prepare for easy to clear up mess, but T can be absorbed in cutting, tearing and scrunching paper for some time and this can be a good distraction from the times when anxiety begins to show itself as restless frustration.

 

Free printables: Scrap-booking with God

A while ago T & I got started on a scrap book all about the Bible. We love the cutting, sticking and doodling process of scrap-booking. It’s something we do on some holidays (something I did on holidays as a child – in fact I also used to doodle and put together diaries or activity books for my younger sisters too when we went away which probably annoyed them intensely!), and if we are busy finding out about a particular topic. So for us it is perhaps the most natural thing in the world to do scrap-booking with God.

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I don’t chat with T about scrap-booking about God, but with him. What we doodle, cut & stick is all part of our conversation with him. Sometimes our pages become conversation starters between God & us; sometimes they are a response to what we experienced in being with God that day; sometimes in writing a verse out or colouring or drawing about a bible verse we are better able to listen. Just the same as a spiritual journal but with much more glue, stickers and felt tips!

Anyway, I have been busy drawing some more printables that can be coloured, cut out and used in your scrap-booking with God. Because T is still enjoying exploring the facts about the Bible the most recent page is full of fascinating facts about the Bible alongside the picture-language the Bible uses to describe God’s word in our lives. These will need a bit of explanation for my literal thinker – though I look forward to learning from her take on them too –

  • light for my path – picture language that gets us remembering how difficult and scary it can be walking on a path in pitch darkness. We find it easier and safer when there is a good streetlight, or a powerful torch showing us the path and where we can walk. God’s word is like a light that makes it safe to walk forward in life, helping us see where to go next and the dangers to avoid.

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  • honey on my lips – a comparison between God’s words when we hear them and honey when we eat some. Honey not only tastes amazing it also has superpowers and can help heal because it has antibacterial properties, and is soothing, and eating local honey can genuinely help hay fever. Honey is also very precious, looking back to when this comparison was used granulated sugar did not exist, nor did artificial sweetners. Honey was beautifully sweet in cooking, so over time in many cultures people began to keep bees and collect the honey despite the risks.
  • my guide/map – if we are going somewhere we need to know the way. If we don’t we feel lost, and become lost very easily without a map or a guide to show us the directions. In life there are so many choices every day – little ones and big ones, and without directions and help it can feel very difficult – we may even feel lost (sometimes people even describe someone who has made bad choices as having ‘lost their way’). God’s word can be our guide (just like having someone with us to show us the way) and our map that we can work out the best choices from.

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  • every day bread – Jesus said we can’t live just on bread, we need the word of God too. Thinking about God’s word being like every day bread reminds us how much we need it. We would get hungry, then weak and ill if we gave up on eating what we need to each day. It is as important for our health and well-being that we hear God’s word every day and let it’s goodness give us what we need to live.
  • sword of the Spirit – from the picture Paul describes about the Christian dressed in protective armour so they can be strong in their living out of the faith. The ‘sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ is the only weapon Paul talks about when he describes living as a Christian in this way. God’s word can battle with our worries and doubts, they can tell us what is true when lies come at us. The Holy Spirit reminds us of God’s word at all the important moments in our living for God, always reminding us of who God is and how loved we are.

click here to download free printables 

I really hope you enjoy using these pages in your scrap-booking with God. If you want to take a picture I would love to see. Tag me on instagram, @clearlynurturing.