lent is nearly here

It hardly seems a minute since I managed to get Christmas decorations down and packed back away, and here we are, Lent begins next week!

So I’m taking the opportunity of blogging about such things as faith habits at home as my excuse to spend some time enjoying pinterest – should I say, researching – looking for the many great ideas out there that other families have tried.

(By the way I collect together the ideas I find about faith at home on my pinterest board)

Ideas that have caught my eye this year are:

How beautiful!!  It's a visual walk through the days of lent to Easter.

 

This visual walk through lent posted by ‘rhythm of the home’

I wondered if it could also be made together as a family throughout lent, taking turns to add a thumb print (or even a painty foot print) each day.

‘Catholic Icing’ have a printable lenten calendar that could be coloured in each day. A simple visual countdown is really helpful for breaking lent down into something that can be imagined, and the end can be ‘in sight’.

‘Flame Creative Kids’  has a whole list of wonderful, creative, prayer and thinking activities including this lovely stained glass window design.

 ‘GodVenture’ ‘s new book takes you through lent looking at the story of Lazarus with stickers, story, prayers.

‘Dunlap Love’ directs me to a way of doing a lenten tree – like a Jesse tree – and has some free printable ornaments to laminate and hang up each day as a Bible verse is read.

And also ‘Wee Little Miracles’ tells me how to go about making and using this beautiful spiral to the cross with cardboard, burlap and modelling clay. She is planning to take turns to place a stone into a ‘cup’ each day to mark the journey through lent.

 

 

I will also be posting weekly ideas, practical and crafty and with free printables inspired by my book ‘My Easter Egg Hunt’ which explores the meaning of Good Friday. They’ll be posted on my clearly nurturing publishing website.

There are so many lovely ideas for creating sacred space, and a pattern of prayer and Bible reading together through lent. Now the hard bit is deciding which we will try. I am imagining we will combine a reflective habit like one of these with some intentional blessing of others.

Maybe joining in with the 40 acts challenge or by collecting food for the local foodbank, or similar project adding some items every day as we pray (we have a project our church supports that works alongside asylum seekers and refugees, and there are others too who would welcome donations or things or of time).

Lent is a time to focus together with God, to reflect on our own faith and trust in him, and his beyond words grace poured over us. A time to look at the world around us again but with eyes heightened and alert, and with hearts stirred by prayer and renewed sense of purpose. (And my prayer is that in the middle of our unpredictable and rather complicated family life there will be a thread of all those hopes running through our lives together in the run up to celebrating Easter, because God is in our midst)

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friends

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“She can’t be autistic, she has friends”…. (anon)

I must have heard this a hundred times! The truth is autistic people do have friends, want friendship and really value their friends. It’s also true that some of what makes up being a good friend and enjoying & understanding a friendship doesn’t come easily – in a sense that’s not different than it is for anyone, but the things that are difficult if you are autistic are there in every element of friendship everyday so it can get a bit complicated, exhausting and overwhelming at times it seems to me.

‘Once you have made friends, you have to work on your friendship. This is because you’re only going to benefit from a friendship .. if you continue to be friends with that person. Therefore, you need to use some friendship maintenance skills to keep the friendship going.

An analogy that might be helpful for this is learning to play a musical instrument … once you have mastered a skill such as playing a particular piece of music, you have to practice regularly to keep being  able to play that piece of music so that you maintain the skill in your memory’  (The independent woman’s handbook for super safe living on the autistic spectrum, Robyn Steward. p69)

A lot of the basic maintenance skills are things most people take for granted, most of us don’t remember having to consciously learn them, we are sometimes not even aware of them – they just happen when we are around our friends. Things like reading body language, hearing tone of voice changes, keeping up with the conversation, turn taking in conversation, noticing and understanding other people’s boundaries, likes and dislikes. These are all things that most autistic people have to consciously learn, and because most people aren’t aware how they learnt these skills it can be a very tough job to find someone to teach them!

Ongoing, ordinary friendship relies on these skills. For example, friends respond to each other’s feelings to be quick to comfort, say sorry or to share in their excitement, but people don’t express their feelings clearly and directly very often – more often through tone of voice, and body language alongside behaviour, and of course a reliance on a common understanding of how feelings are expressed in our culture, so there are a lot of different skills needed to be able to ‘see and hear’ a friends feelings in order to be able to be a good friend in response. If these skills have to be consciously learnt (and they’re not an exact science!) then this process takes more time, and is something that can go wrong quite quickly – and then be difficult to unravel and mend.

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Conversation is another ordinary part of friendship. But it is made more difficult if most people in a conversation seem to just know when it’s their turn to join in but to you it seems impossible to work out. The average way of learning turn taking in conversation is by noticing those raised eyebrow moments from parents or aunties when we were very small and just starting out; hearing the clearing of the throat of a grandparent and noticing the intent of it towards you, inferring it’s meaning as a reprimand or warning to wait. If you are autistic your brain just doesn’t learn by inference, and of course we’re also back to the not hearing tone of voice changes, not looking at people’s faces in the same way, not reading body language instinctively. These differences in learning mean that sometimes autistic people can dominate conversations unaware of other’s lack of interest or annoyance which can appear unfeeling or selfish, other autistic people sometimes never join in conversations in a group but wait to speak to just one person at a time which can appear very shy, withdrawn or uninterested.

‘Many people struggle to pick up on subtle social cues such as someone not sounding interested.For people on the autistic spectrum, this could be because you are monotropic (able to concentrate on only one thing at a time). Also, your sensory system may be mono-channel (concentrating on one sense at a time).’

(The independent woman’s handbook for super safe living on the autistic spectrum, Robyn Steward. p71)

It’s also very true that the context of any conversation makes a huge difference to how well these skills can be used even when they have been thought about and learnt. Many people who are autistic also have SPD (sensory processing disorder – or difference) which can mean they are vulnerable to being more quickly overwhelmed and so distracted by the environment around them – hearing all sounds equally rather than filtering out the ones not needed right now for example, or being in pain from the light that doesn’t seem too bright for anyone but you. Dealing with sensory overload (literally an overload of neuro-pathways) is not at all easy to do and still navigate a conversation well.

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One of the other different thing I’m noticing is just how difficult it can be in friendships when you are a very focused thinker. Many autistic people have very specific areas of intense interest which can hold their attention for an age, and at times can dominate their conversations, their choices in play, their imaginary world – at times pretty much everything. This can sometimes be difficult to bring into a friendship group, where other people have other interests and it is cultural for good friends to spend time enjoying and taking an interest in each other’s hobbies or interests. Again, a skill to learn. Sometimes it is even that the friendship itself is the intense interest and then it can get difficult when things change, or when new friends are also included, or when the friend’s boundaries over how often they feel comfortable about getting together don’t match. It can also be difficult in these moment to accept and understand that some people want lots of close friends.

Friendship is something I assume every parent worries over, and prays about for their children. For me it is also something I am constantly trying to dissect and understand better so I can anticipate hazards ahead and get teaching, showing and supporting the use of friendship maintenance skills. Because friends really matter, and we really value them.

it takes a long time to grow an old friend

 

 

Review: ‘Indescribable 100 devotions about God and science’

‘Indescribable 100 devotions about God and science’ by Louie Giglio is a new book of devotions all with a scientific focus. When I saw it advertised I pre-ordered I was so excited at the thought of devotions that would overlap with a special interest, and I hoped that being focused on science it might also be full of facts and details which would also appeal.

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We began reading, B & I, on New Years’ Day, and I have not been disappointed! Each day has been packed with interest grabbing facts and insights about our world – the main topics focused in on are space, earth, animals, and people (they are spread about through the devotions if you follow day by day but at the front is a contents which also groups them into these categories so you could read by topic if preferred). There is so much detail in each thought that we have even come across facts B didn’t already know (no point in me adding that there are lots & lots I don’t know, take that as read! – but I have been able to follow).

Each devotion must take about 2 or 3 minutes to read and include the Bible verse, and there are drawn pictures and photographs (next to bonus facts to think more about) on each page, and a prayer you can use together. I think it would be accessible for confident readers to use alone, but we are enjoying them together and mostly finishing with our own prayers – because we have a set way that has evolved over time.

Although I have started reading with B I think it will also appeal to T (now 7) so when the moment is right I may tentatively see if I can build it into my bedtime routine with her & see what she thinks. But I love it!

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Other devotions we have loved:

‘Thoughts to make your heart sing’ by Sally Lloyd Jones

‘God and me’ by Penny Boshoff was great when B & A were little, and still dipped into by T as she loves the pictures (all photos of real children doing interesting things!)

‘Children can you hear me’ by Brad Jersak (I talk about this book here)

‘Comfort in the darkness’ by Rachel Turner (read our review here)

And not forgetting ‘Our family GodVenture’ by Victoria Beech which we are still enjoying on Fridays when we have a ‘sabbath’ meal together.

And ‘Topz’ books (produced by CWR) have also been enjoyed over the years – we’re not there with T yet, they were great when A wanted something to get stuck into on his own.

Would love to know your recommendations, are you enjoying any particular Bible devotions/thoughts for the day at the moment? .. leave suggestions in the comments..

 

 

welcome the new year

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Apparently it’s 2018!

Happy New Year!!

Today has been filled with precious last conversations and laughter with family who have been staying, before we all get back to our work & school routines. Followed by hoovering and getting our three back and settled in their own rooms again after a full house and camping beds in every possible place you could imagine.

We all went to church together yesterday in the morning, crammed into 2 rows (there were 15 of us at that point). T was particularly restless, so excited to have all her cousins with her. So one by one all the fidget toys came out of my bag, and the usual pen & paper. I was a little discouraged – the service was of course being led brilliantly by two of our team. It was interactive, accessible, fun – there was nothing T couldn’t join in with, on paper – I find it hard some weeks when she appears to be so distracted. She did enjoy the singing though & it’s always a delight to worship alongside her in song.

A new year seems incredibly daunting don’t you think. All the unknowns and some known challenges on the horizon; GCSE exams at school for B, music grades for A, post 16 choices for B, move up to juniors for T…  Somehow sitting being reminded of trusting God and listening for his voice in every challenge ahead – with a restless, squirming T on & off (& on & off!) on my knee I was deeply aware of just how uphill a year can feel.

But I just wanted to share with you what wriggly T drew in the notebook during the service, because it encouraged me to trust:

She was taking it all in. She was listening for God’s voice in the midst of the busy wriggling, the excitement, the joy, and the frustrations of that service.

We learnt a very apt memory verse during the service, and T jotted down the prompts on the next page of the notebook:

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pray more than a shopping list

Either intentionally or unintentionally, we may communicate to out children a definite set of ‘rules’ about prayer: what their bodies should do, what their words should say, and what content is acceptable. This set up implies to our children that we can succeed or fail at how we perform the act of praying. That’s a big pressure when the God of the universe is the audience!

(Parenting children for a life of faith, Rachel Turner, p63)

Don’t know about yours, but at the moment my 3 are in a bit of a routine when it comes to praying – one we have kind of ‘coached them’ into. Pretty much set length ‘shopping-list’ prayers bringing to God a good balance of their own needs and those of family & occasionally further afield. But it can feel rattled off, well rehearsed at times and at the moment T is opting out. So when I was reading these words of Rachel Turners stuck me. She’s right of course, in trying to ‘be good christian parents’ we have taught them a ‘correct’ template for prayer I suppose.  And there’s some good in that – it is a framework that they can always fall back on in times when praying is hard. But having a ‘correct’ way means our children are coming to talk to God from a very particular unconscious perspective – that God is a slot machine you have to have the correct change for?, that if you don’t see the answer you’re imagining from God that you didn’t pray it right?, that God is fearsome and only listens to perfect prayers?, or that he’s not interested in small talk with us just wanting to get the business done?

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None of those perspectives fit the way God reveals himself to us. He says ‘call me Father’, Jesus says when you talk to God say ‘Daddy…’! That’s intimate, and caring. That’s personal. The father child relationship is an everyday one – what I mean is that at it’s best (deliberately in bold!) it’s a relationship that gets involved in all aspects of our lives, it’s the type of relationship where life becomes an intertwined shared experience. Daddy and child. The child looks up to the Dad and hangs on his every word – the Daddy dotes on his child, treasuring every shared moment, every conversation no matter what its about.

“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?” (Matt 6:5 MSG)

Wanting children to have a safe place to encounter God is a right desire. My initial response to that desire, though, was to put myself between God and children. I was the safety gate. Since I saw this tendency in myself, I’ve changed the boundaries. I don’t want to be the safety gate between God and children. I want to be the steward – the one who guides a child into the presence of God and stands guard to protect their time and space as they interact. I want to be the one who walks with the child away from that encounter and helps him to process the way it changes his situation and life.

(Parenting children for a life of faith. Rachel Turner, p 66)

I don’t need to protect my children from God – he’s their loving Father, he knows and loves them better than I do! I don’t need to help my children to formulate ‘perfect’ prayers. I need to guide them into their Daddy’s presence, and model for them how all of life – the wiggles, giggles, moans, frustrations, worries and wonderings – is on the table when we chat with God.

I guess for us part of that process is practicing and modelling those kinds of relationships within the family home. Talking together about stuff; being a family that shares joys and struggles together, and talks about questions, dreams, ideas. Part of that will mean Andrew & I intentionally choosing very open ended questions and conversation starters – or we’ll just get a one word answer.

Communication with our family and friends is filled with half spoken thoughts, ponderings, funny stories and really deep sharing. We often speak from the heart about what is going on with us… In relationship we share the little things in life because, eventually, big things come along, and we need to know that the other person in that relationship cares about and can handle both.

(Parenting children for a life of faith, Rachel Turner, p69)

To help this begin to be a bit more intentional I have had some fun and made some conversation starter stones (a bit like my happy chatting lollipop sticks but very much open ended). I am hoping they will encourage us to do more talking about feelings and abstract things as a family, but I also hope they can be useful in prayer too. Choose a stone, read and let it be the beginning of a chat with God, or a picture or letter for God. They are made by cutting small shapes out of thin patterned paper, writing on a simple open question or the start of a sentence and then sticking them onto the stone with PVA glue. Then seal the paper with more PVA glue just over the top. I have deliberately kept mine very small, with teeny tiny writing – T especially loves finding tiny writing & working it out – and loves magnifying glasses!

 “What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! … You’re worth more than a million canaries.” (Matt 10:29-31 MSG)

Also for us I think it means continuing intentional work about naming and recognising emotions in ourselves (we’re then planning to continue building on that self awareness towards recognising and acknowledging emotions in others).  Recognising (and so naming) emotions is something we usually learn by inference, but neither of my girls do their learning from inference, which means unravelling and naming physical sensations/tone of voice/body language/facial expressions intentionally together and then putting together a picture of each emotion as they experience it, and then how we might look for those clues in others – or slightly different clues – lets face it we don’t all present emotions in exactly the same way… goodness this could (probably will!) take years!!

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Pet 5:7 (NIV)

 

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