peace, not necessarily peacefulness

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Goodness it’s been quite a half term in the Porter house! A new school for T, college for the first time for B, and the beginning of the exam years for A. Plus new chaplaincy work for Andrew alongside church, and all the usual responsibilities. Of course, for me this has brought yet more steep learning curves and the challenges of stepping up to the new ways support from me is needed for everyone. Trying to understand and navigate the Further Ed support systems, beginning to build partnership and communication with new tutors and teachers. Reading and re-reading policies and guidelines, law and recommendations to try and work out what adjustments and support it is reasonable to ask for, what I need to find independently and what simply isn’t out there that I’m going to need to creatively put in place myself. One of my friends reminds me that I once said to her that chaos is chaos – no matter how much more you put into the mix, but my goodness it feels as if we have chaos full to bursting at the moment!

Yesterday the secondary school where I’m on the chaplaincy team had a service all about peace. At the end there was a time of reflection with beautiful music being played. In between the boys behind me asking me what different questions on the reflection sheet meant (which I loved chatting about) I sat and read, and re-read ‘my peace I give to you… do not be troubled, do not be upset’. And I sat there and heard Jesus say these words into all of the above and more, and I became aware of my aching painful permanently stressed out shoulders and neck, and I pondered this gift of peace. Given into the midst of the storms of life.

“I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.” (John 14:27, MSG)

We rarely have ‘peaceful’ times in our family life together. And when we do it’s short lived. We work hard to find ‘peacefulness’ and rest for each of us – we each find it in different ways and places. A good book, quiet, dancing to loud music, gardening, walking, animals, being alone, being with others, baking, drawing and painting, playing, minecraft, SIMS… But it’s elusive and fleeting, the ‘peace’ we can find for ourselves in those ways. It’s needed respite but it doesn’t come close to the deep seated, welling up, strong, protecting all around me kind of peace that I sense Jesus is talking about.

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I think I began learning what this Jesus peace might be like when I was only a child. Words from a song we played on a record over and over, and sang along to have stayed with me through the years and pop into my mind to remind me of the truth I grabbed hold of as a child listening to ‘the music machine’: ‘peace is holding Jesus’ hand’. It is active, holding onto him, trusting in who he is. It is a gift, he stands next to me with his hand stretching out to be held onto, giving himself. He is our peace. We are accepted, loved, understood. We are safe and held through every storm of life. We are not defined and restricted by the systems we have to navigate but defined by and in this belonging with Jesus. Our well being and purposefulness rests in our belonging with him.

My belonging in him can give me the courage I need. I can lean into his love for me when worries yet again try to overwhelm me. When everything feels as if I am wading through treacle I can be sure I am with the one who can speak to howling wind and dangerous waves – and put them in their place! The troubles, worries, concerns, mountains we face do not disappear but we are not bereft or alone. We are ‘holding Jesus’ hand’.

 ‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33 NIV)

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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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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.

 

meet our kittens

 

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Jaffa and Padfoot

A momentous day yesterday, we went and chose and brought home two new additions to the family life, Jaffa (with a little ginger face) and Padfoot (with creamy dipped feet).

Part Maine Coon, part Bengal we are hopeful they will bring the best characteristics of those breeds. We need pets able to enjoy our often lively household, animals that will make a strong bond with us and will want to be alongside us in our adventures.

So we are very much enjoying getting to know them, and working out boundaries that give them enough space. And we are enjoying watching them getting to know us and their new home. They have already made claim to a shelf in the kitchen for resting in, and are keeping us busy teaching us how they like to play.

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I’ll let you know how we’re all getting on from time to time, and am bound to post lots of pictures on Instagram (clearlynurturing). Am so thankful to have found them.

 

is it a paddy, is it a tantrum, no it’s super-meltdown: things I need you to know about meltdowns

The thing about sensory processing differences is that they are there all the time, sensory cravings alongside sensory defensiveness in a world full of light, noise, movement and touch means it can be surprisingly easy to get overwhelmed. The thing about autsitic masking (think swan with crazy fast, unseen feet working so hard to camouflage and do the right thing even when it feels like you are an alien in a world where the social expectations and rules are always just out of reach) is that it takes so much energy, so much focus to survive or overcome worry after worry just to make it through the day. So it doesn’t need much of a niggle, misunderstanding, or unexpected moment to be knocked off balance and all the bottled up worries and stress to burst out. Meltdowns happen. They are inconvenient, stressful, messy, noisy, attract unwanted attention, are painful and exhausting – for all of us, public or not.

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With a tantrum or angry outburst there are words, frustration and a battle for control. As a mum I know to reach for clear boundaries, definite options to move forward and get ready in the back of my mind for a suitable consequence if calm is not restored (for B when she was younger the consequence that worked best in these situations was her doll being put out of reach for the rest of the day… these days it’s much more likely to be screen time that gets affected if one of them simply refuses to stop and calm down.)

But a meltdown is entirely different. For us meltdowns are non-verbal, mute – there is sometimes shouting and screaming but there is no verbal communication. And there won’t be until a long time after the meltdown subsides and things are becoming regulated again. Meltdowns are not a choice, not consciously attention seeking – or a tool being used in a battle for control. A meltdown is out of control for the one experiencing it. As a mum I know this is not the time for negotiation, talking it out, or reaching for clear boundaries. My job is to keep things safe, and be there.

In a meltdown what I see when I stop and look into my child’s eyes is not frustration and willful battling but fear and the kind of rage that fear can be. It’s a panic attack. Their whole body is involved, flooded with adrenaline for fight or flight. The heart is pounding, their arms and legs lashing out in defensive attack. Things can be thrown as if in self defense, they can hide tight in an impenetrable ball, they can run as if their life depends on it. It is as if everything – every sound, touch, thought, feeling is coming at them. They are overwhelmed. They cannot find the ground. It is terrifying, exhausting. As a mum I know this is not the time for discipline, or consequences. My job is only to stay close, keeping them safe.

The aftermath of a meltdown takes a long time to go through. Rest has to happen, some withdrawal from demands. There is a need to feel secure and grounded again, either through a tight cuddle (T needs this often) or a familiar safe space and activity (usually a repetitive one). There will be no words for a long time. Often there is little to no recollection of the details of the meltdown at all, just sadness and regret at the thought that they might have hurt us. As a mum all I want to do now is give reassurance and be an undemanding loving, accepting presence.

It is often difficult to pinpoint the triggers of the meltdown. With a tantrum it is often much clearer what the whole thing is about. With a meltdown this isn’t always the case. With hindsight Andrew & I can work out some common contributing factors and we work to minimize these. We also see warning signs sometimes and if we can we can steer T or B towards a quiet space, or a calm activity which may go some way to prevent a meltdown. But this isn’t always achievable or possible. Sometimes we have chatted with our girls about what might have triggered the fear response, but this is rare. Often we find even approaching the subject of triggers can bring back the overwhelming feelings and anxiety visibly increases. Instead we talk together in calm moments about emotions, and physical reactions to emotions learning and exploring vocabulary so that understanding grows in the hope that emotions themselves can be ‘sat with’ more easily, and be less frightening in and of themselves. Hoping also that understanding and vocabulary can help everyday emotional regulation which in itself will build some resilience – and help me to understand my girls better so I can support them better.

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I am in awe of my girls. Having had bouts of panic attacks I know they are overwhelming, scary and exhausting. Facing them and enduring them takes courage. Getting through the day knowing that it could happen takes courage. And my girls don’t just ‘get through’ most days, they are adventurers and explorers who are interested in life, who face new challenges all the time. Meltdowns are not at all easy. They are not tantrums. They need love and support.