Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

The Story of Aslan

A little different post before we get going on more sensory posts.  I have loved following people who are engaged in accessible church ministries and like the Good News Group, making church work for children and adults with different needs.  Aslan is a church group for young people at Tonbridge Baptist Church and here is their story…

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‘I’ll help with the music, but I won’t have time to lead it’ –my initial reaction in 2013 when a few people in my church were wanting to set up a group to support an autistic boy of 14 who had been through Sunday School with a 1:1 helper, but now found it very difficult to join in with what was on offer for his age group.

I was enjoying being part of the music ministry and helping with Alpha courses.  I felt I had enough to do, having also recently been appointed an Elder.  In addition to those things I was the music teacher in a school for children with physical disabilities and complex medical needs. My life was full!

However, God had other ideas and as I started to get involved it was clear to me that He was putting all sorts of thoughts into my mind. For the first few weeks, it was fairly unstructured. James played with his vast collection of animals and we enjoyed seeing him make up stories about them. I played a few children’s worship songs that he seemed to engage with, but it didn’t seem enough. I knew, from my years of teaching in special education, that there was an expectation for any child of any ability to be able to learn. We had to do our best to find creative ways to tap into their potential.

With this in mind, I started to imagine how this ministry could develop. We could have focused, constructive sessions. Children with special needs could learn about God’s love and the Bible in a safe space, with dedicated people to help them.

As the ideas began to flow, I recognised God’s hand in gently guiding me to a place where I wanted to take a lead and develop this group. We still only had James, but it wasn’t long before others showed interest.

Two months later we heard about Joshua. He was 10 and the oldest of four boys. His parents wanted to attend church but one of them always had to stay behind as Josh was reluctant to come. He didn’t engage with church services and didn’t want to go into Sunday School. He came to our group and decided this was okay! Within a few months we had another two boys, bringing the number to four.

STRUCTURE

We then decided to settle on a routine for the morning. We started with free time – the boys could bring something that would interest them and for 10 minutes they could play on that activity. Then we came together for a prayer, Bible story and song. This was followed by a snack time – biscuit and drink, and then an activity linked to the Bible story. We finished the morning by allowing the boys free time until their parents came for them. This routine worked well and has continued to be the framework of the morning, as we found the predictability of the structure was very helpful. In addition to the structure of the session we wanted to underpin it all with prayer, so we made it a priority to gather to pray for 10 minutes before the start. It remains such a good way to focus on the reason for being there, to pray for every aspect of the morning, to pray for the families and to pray for each other.

NAME

As we became more established, we started to think of a name for the group. This was quite challenging and various suggestions were made but nothing seemed quite right! One day I sat down with a piece of paper and jotted down some of the words about us… special, loving, nurturing. I played around with the letters and soon had organised them into ‘Aslan’: All Special needs children LovedAnd Nurtured. I liked the idea of the individual letters meaning something but also loved the idea of using Aslan, the representation of Jesus from the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ as our symbol. We asked James, who inspired the vision, to draw a picture of a lion head which we still use in our logo.

LEADERS

We meet 3 times a month and have a rota of 3 teams. Over time it has become clear that partnering the children with the right leaders is an important part of the planning. Some of the best faith conversations go on during individual activity times and we are blessed with dedicated and gifted people.

RESOURCES

In the early days of Aslan, I scoured the internet for activities to support Bible stories but was surprised that it was so difficult to find suitable resources. There is a wide range of ability within the group and I wanted to find things that were engaging and meaningful for each one.  In the absence of anything ready-made, I prepared activities differentiated at 4 different levels of ability. This was a lot of work and I started to think that it might be helpful to others if I shared these resources online. I believe it was one of those God-planted thoughts! My son Dan was Youth Team Leader at my church at the time and was keen to help me set up a website. It was a long and sometimes arduous process, but it has now been running since April 2018 and has all the resources to enable anyone to run a 3-year Bible-based curriculum: http://aslan.tonbridgebaptist.church/

TODAY

We have now been running for 6 years and currently have 7 boys and 1 girl in the group, with all 4 levels of ability represented.

FACEBOOK

I love being part of this ministry and hope to encourage others to set up similar groups. Recently, I decided that it might be helpful to set up a facebook group,  Aslan | SENchurch,     to be able to interact more easily with anyone using the material. New members are always welcome!

With many thanks to Jackie Potter for writing and sharing this story with us.

Like most people I used to think there were just 5 senses but we now know there are at least 8 main sensory systems that allow our brains to take in information from the world around us and process what is going on, where we are, whether we are safe and how we might respond to that sensory information.    After this introduction, I am going to explore a different sense in each post and I have been particularly inspired by Dr Naomi Grahams book, “Love surpassing knowledge”.

Love Surpassing Knowledge

I highly recommend it.   She writes what I would have loved to, so in these posts I am going to mention what she says and add my own research, ideas and insights too.

Overview of the 8 key sensory systems.

  1. The Visual system – the eyes and the sights we see.  This is also the pictures created in our minds from our visual memory or imagination.
  2. The Hearing system – the ears and the sounds we hear.  This also connects to the vibrations that are detected through other sensory organs like the skin, muscles and bones.  A bit like when you block your ears and you can hear the blood pumping through your veins.
  3. The Olfactory system – this is our sense of smell but the channels from our noses are also connected to the back of the throat and our taste sensory system.
  4. The Taste system – the mouth, tongue and sense of smell are all connected to help us decide if a food or object is safe to eat.  Young children also use this sense to explore objects as the lips and tongue are extremely sensitive and can tell the brain a lot of information about the thing they are touching.
  5. The Touch system – not just our hands but our whole skin is an organ sensitive to touch.  Also our mouth and throat are touch sensitive on the inside (as we feel the texture of food as we swallow it, for example)
  6. The Vestibular system – thesis our sense of balance, in our inner ear.  Giving us a sense of movement, security between us and the ground and helping us know about speed, direction and how high or deep we might be.
  7. The Proprioceptive system – our central nervous system is connected to every bone joint and muscle to give our brains information as to where our body is in space.
  8. The Interoception system  – our central nervous system connected to our internal organs and systems.  This sense doesn’t just tell us when we are hungry or need the toilet, but is the major factor in connecting us with our emotions.  For example, you know you seem nervous because you have noticed that your tummy or your heart seems to be fluttering.

8 senses

You created the deepest parts of my being.
    You put me together inside my mother’s body.
How you made me is amazing and wonderful.
    I praise you for that.
What you have done is wonderful.
    I know that very well.
None of my bones was hidden from you
    when you made me inside my mother’s body.
    That place was as dark as the deepest parts of the earth.
When you were putting me together there,
your eyes saw my body even before it was formed.    Psalm 139: 13-16 NIrV 

We often read this passage and I don’t think that any of us really understand how complex and awesome a human body is.  Just reflecting on the complexity and wonder of those sensory systems is mind-blowing!  The senses enable us to experience life and creation in all its glory.  Even if one of those senses do not receive messages too well,  there are so many other ways the body can experience the wonder and majesty of what God has created for us.   Those senses keep us safe, it’s how we know to keep away from busy roads and hot fires.  The brain can work in an instant to pull us away from a fast moving car or sudden loud noise.  We often don’t have to think about our reactions, we just do.  Of course, the senses can sometimes need support. Sometimes brains may have difficulty managing all the sensations.  But for this post let us just consider the awesomeness of this body that God has designed for us.  Not only is it perfectly suited to help us interpret the world around us, it enables to experience wonder, joy and love.  Not just the basics…but so much extra that we didn’t need to survive…but as a gift to enable us to have the fullness of a relationship with God.

The Bible also tells us that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.  That we are to look after it but even more amazing – that the Holy Spirit will live in us.  That’s tricky if you can’t see him or wonder how someone else can live inside you!  But I’ve often thought about how I know the Holy Spirit is with me – and the thoughts and experiences that show this is true come through my senses.  I ‘feel’ his presence through an emotion or a picture he gives me in my mind.  Sometimes its an interpretation of a sensory experience he helps me with – ever had that sense that you need to go and phone someone in need…right now?  Some people talk about a ‘fragrance’ that is of God, or a touch, a sound or a voice.  I have heard God’s audible voice before.  Once I was in a terrible situation and his voice came to reassure me it would be okay.

When we rely on Bible teaching and discipleship based on words and discussion, we miss out on our sensory experiences.  Naomi Graham’s book gives lots of examples when God spoke to Biblical people through the different senses, or used their sensory systems to teach them something.  We are all sensory beings.  And when we read we are made in the image of God – it is logical to assume that God is a sensory being first.

And we are made to share sensory experiences, as a community.  We worship, pray and experience community together.  We touch, hug, sing, experience silence and engage in relationship and learning together…if we care to…if we take the time to create space and experiences to be able to do so.   We use touch to show we care and to be intimate.  We use shared meals to bond and spend time together. We make music and clap together.  We move together, standing up, sharing the peace, dancing, praying.  So many different sensory experiences are enriched when they are shared experiences.

When we do church with people who do not have good spoken language or who cannot read, or have a physical or sensory disability we can do so much more together by connecting with God through our different senses.  I was talking to a deaf person a while ago who hears God’s voice very clearly.  We needn’t put restrictions on people’s sensory experiences.  God is the author and creator of our bodies.  He knit them together in all their sensory wonderfulness.   It is a way to connect with people on a different level, through different experiences and in doing so, connect us to God through shared experiences.

I’m thinking – how awesome is that?!

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Next…let’s look deeper at the Visual Sense…

 

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“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”    Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

 

There was a post on Facebook this week about a new Barbie doll.  The post that had gone viral was from a wheelchair user called Laura  (see the post here) who said how a Barbie doll was given her as a child “to encourage her to walk”.  She felt from that early age that she was not enough because she could not walk. The new Barbie doll, one that had a wheelchair like her, seemed to go some way in validating that it was okay not to walk.  It was okay to be her.

barbie

image from smythstoys.com

And I had a wonderful catch up with a friend this week.  A friend who a couple of years ago was diagnosed with autism.  As is often the case, autism in females just wasn’t recognised when she was younger, and she spent her life wondering why she wasn’t enough.  She’s been almost burnt out with religion (hence using the verses from The Message Bible) and we both felt that the pressure to fit in, be doing stuff and to be someone else’s idea of good Christian  was making church and faith joyless and actually sucking the faith out of people who can’t fit into the box that is created for people to fit into.

Another friend who was born with foetal alcohol syndrome was told he couldn’t be in the Sunday school with the other children as he was too much to look after and wasn’t clever enough to keep up with the other children.

But we are finding out something really important, and my friend gave words to it…

We have permission from Jesus to be us!

“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.”                               Psalm 139:14-16  The Message

I have been privileged to meet Elly Chapple who has started a revolution called #FlipTheNarrative (see her short Ted Talk here) – it’s about how we view and value people with differences and disabilities.  How we treat them as if they are not human and we need to change our perspective. So many people cannot speak up for themselves, either because they have no speech and people do not listen to their communication, or because people have been bullied into thinking they have no valid voice – that they are not enough to be acceptable.  But everyone needs to be at the table and valued for who they are.  Does this remind anyone of the Gospel?  Jesus told the parable of the banquet and one aspect is that people only wanted to invite certain people, but Jesus said invite those who are on the outside.  It’s so important that we don’t try to invite people into God’s family by telling them “but first you must _______”  (try to walk, want to be healed, do what is expected, be more like the rest of us… fill in your own version….

I have realised that in some parts of the church, the Pharisees are alive and well, still telling us who can be in God’s kingdom and who is not enough to be included.

“But Jesus put it right back on them. “Why do you use your rules to play fast and loose with God’s commands? God clearly says, ‘Respect your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone denouncing father or mother should be killed.’ But you weasel around that by saying, ‘Whoever wants to, can say to father and mother, What I owed to you I’ve given to God.’ That can hardly be called respecting a parent. You cancel God’s command by your rules. Frauds! Isaiah’s prophecy of you hit the bull’s-eye: These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it. They act like they’re worshiping me, but they don’t mean it. They just use me as a cover for teaching whatever suits their fancy.” Matthew 15:3-9 The Message

So this post is reminding you, whoever you are, whether you feel ‘typical’ or have differences that you think are too much or not enough in this world…

You have permission to be you.

You don’t have to join in the peace, you don’t have to stand up for songs, you don’t have to be sociable when you need time alone, you don’t have to sing or go to meetings or pray in a set formula.  So many ways people try to control and manage how we live out our faith.  I confess, I have done that too.  I have learned as God has shown me his grace, and shown me how to see his grace for everyone.   I am full of joy for the people in all parts of the body of Christ that are learning this as well.  I am continually encouraged, challenged, loved and prayed for by people who cannot do groups, or find Sunday services exhausting.  Yet on a 1:1 they are the best people to help me grow in my faith.  They don’t seem to mind me getting a bit over-excitable, or when I interrupt or go off on tangents either!  

We have permission to stim, to fidget, to laugh, to cry in a service.  We have permission to answer rhetorical questions and ask questions we don’t know the answer to.  We  have permission to sit at the back, on the floor, lie down or walk around.  We have permission to have a quiet day at home instead of forcing ourselves to go to church when we might be in pain.  We have permission to make church a free and accessible place for all of us.  (Radical idea…might be different…ha ha!)

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“The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.                    Romans 3:23-24 The Message

We were told by Jesus to love God and love others.  All others.

These are the best (but not easiest) commands EVER!

And here are some of my favourite songs that I listen when I am needing God’s extra care and want to be reminded of His truths, click on the title to listen…

Strong-arm by Lenny LeBlanc

The Lord’s My Shepherd by Stuart Townsend 

Everlasting Arms by Lou Fellingham

Just be Held by Casting Crowns 

Who am I by Casting Crowns

Amen

 

 

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When people with disabilities go out into the community, they are patronised, ignored, abused verbally and physically.  They are treated appallingly.  My mother has recently broken her pelvis and had to use a wheelchair to go shopping. She commented on how people didn’t acknowledge her but only spoke to my sister who was pushing her.  We talked about how many of my friends who use wheelchairs or who have a learning disability face this on a daily basis… Discrimination and verbal abuse.  A friend who works in a primary school talked about popular playground insults at the moment being “diabetic” or “autistic”, as well as the old “retard” word that still surfaces.   The secondary school kids I work with often talk about autism being insulted and used as an insult.

You might think this only happens out there, in society.  But what about churches?  Would you say they hate disabled people?  I had a recent conversation with an autistic woman where her church told her she was demon possessed. My friend was told he wasn’t welcome in Sunday school because of his disabilities.  And many more families who are asked to leave churches, children who ‘can’t be coped with’ and so much more.  It’s no wonder that people with disabilities are one of the most unreached peoples with the Gospel in our country.

There’s a lot of variation in people’s abilities.

We are all born with differences, some of them mean a person needs more support or adjustments.  But also 83% of people with a disability were not born with that disability.  We are all just seconds away from being disabled, so a saying goes.  My mum fell off her bed.  Hopefully her difficulty with walking will be temporary, but it is likely to have a permanent impact.  Some people have needs that some churches feel they cannot support.  The problem we see in Christianity is there is still a view that illness, disability or impairment is the result of sin…or more specifically these days, the result of not having enough faith.  We forget that His power is made perfect in our weakness. Here, I am thinking about those who say they cannot support people with disabilities – their weakness is God’s chance to show His enabling.

It is the way we see disability and wholeness that is at stake here.  The world sees disability as a burden on society.  It sees disability as shame.  Something to hide away from the ‘normal’ people.  We see disability as a broken person, not normal or whole.  Really? Who is perfect among you?

But in church we need to remember that 2 Corinthians 12:9 says,

But he said to me, “My grace is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.” So I am very happy to brag about how weak I am. Then Christ’s power can rest on me. 

Paul had some condition that he called “a thorn in my side” and this reminded him that he was weak, so he could remember he needed Christ’s enabling power.  Jacob fought with an angel and was left with a permanent disability. I am not saying God gives people their disabilities (although in these cases he clearly did), but like Joni Erikson Tada, he allows people to live with disabilities so that He can bring the gospel to others through his strength and not ours.  Please do look up Joni’s story (link below).  After a riding accident she became quadriplegic and has since had an amazing ministry because of her disability.  God made it an ABILTY.

Often it isn’t the person with a disability that is weak….it is us!

As soon as we think another person is a problem we back off, make excuses, pray for their healing because that makes it easier for us.  We see disability as a curse, something to feel sorry for, something we wouldn’t wish upon ourselves or our enemies even.  We have so many rules towards ministry that disabled people are shut out, ignored and discriminated against.   I’d call this hating disabled people.  Maybe you feel that is too strong a word.  Maybe first you should hear the stories from people who have disabilities and the way they have been treated first.   As Christians, this isn’t facing up to the reality of what we are doing.

1 Corinithans 12:24-26, 27b  (NIRV)

But God has put together all the parts of the body. And he has given more honour to the parts that didn’t have any.  In that way, the parts of the body will not take sides. All of them will take care of one another.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honoured, every part shares in its joy.   You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it.

Who are we to say only verbal people can be prophets?  Who are we to say only physically able people can be apostles and preachers?

But what if we stop and challenge our world view of disability?

What if like Joni, we call it ABILITY instead.  What if, in our churches we make adjustments, change things and acknowledge all our weaknesses before a Holy and Capable God.  What if people with disabilities were honoured and given opportunities to minister to others and grow in their gifts…just as they are?  What if we came before God and repented of our sin of hatred towards disabled people?  What if we saw all of us as weak and inadequate?  What if we stopped measuring a person’s intelligence and physical ability before deciding if they are gifted to serve in the church?   We would be in a much better place to support and help disabled people with their own understanding of who they are in Christ and where their disability fitted into their concept of God’s love. If we stopped to examine our own views first, it could change lives and the church.   As soon as a disabled person thinks others see them as less, then they can easily feel that God loves them less than others because of their disability.

great banquet

Painting graphic courtesy of Hyatt Moore.

There are changes happening. But for me they are painfully slow. The Church of England have recently discussed disabilities in Synod and are writing guidelines on supporting and including people with Down’s Syndrome that will go out to church leaders.  There are already guidelines for supporting autistic people and lots of advice about including and enabling Christians of all kinds of ABILITIES.   All the congregation can learn from the disabled people in their congregations first and then there are now plenty of sources of information on the internet.  I’ve listed some below.

Can a church really learn and change?

Can they learn enough about all these different types of disability and make their services, community and activities accessible to all these different people?

Well, yes…with God’s help and power. With his grace, once we acknowledge we are all in the same state before him….

…Because what you do is learn together.  You put it on your agenda and acknowledge your ignorance to God. God loves our humility. He loves solving problems for us and showing us the way.  What’s more he loves showing up our weaknesses so that He can show his power.  We can be a church of mixed abilities, where strengths and weaknesses are acknowledged, where everyone has gifts that are used to serve each other.  I am so happy when I hear of churches doing this. And there are many.  I don’t want to give a wrong impression of Christianity.  God is gracious and in challenging us to learn about how His body (the church) is really meant to function, it’s totally the opposite of the way society functions.  And disability can be embraced in his grace and mercy, and make us all function as a body more like Christ than ever.

I want to thank Kay Morgan-Gurr writing this:  ‘For Disabled People experiencing hate the church offers little.’   And Mark Arnold for writing this:  ‘A candle in the hurricane of hate.’   Please read them if you haven’t done already, for more perspectives and hope in this topic.

What we see today are churches changing, taking on a different perspective and many willing to start the learning journey together with disabled people.  I have a lot of hope that Jesus will work through us and shine his light to make the church strong in the way it includes and enables ALL Christians.

Ephesians 4:11-13  (NIRV)

So Christ himself gave the gift of the apostles to the church. He gave the prophets and those who preach the good news. And he also gave the pastors and teachers as a gift to the church.  He gave all these people so that they might prepare God’s people to serve. Then the body of Christ will be built up.  That will continue until we all become one in the faith. We will also become one in the knowledge of God’s Son. Then we will be grown up in the faith. We will receive everything that Christ has for us.

Links and Further Help

https://www.joniandfriends.org

https://www.eauk.org/idea/church-deaf-perspectives.cfm

http://www.torchtrust.org

http://additionalneedsalliance.org.uk

https://www.urbansaints.org/allinclusive

https://www.throughtheroof.org

https://www.message.org.uk/category/enable/

https://www.inclusive-church.org

https://www.kaymorgangurr.com

https://www.counteveryonein.org.uk

Are you interested in starting a new thing in your church or in your community? I have spoken to many people recently who have it on their hearts to make their churches more accessible and to possibly start a new accessible ministry with adults or children with additional needs.

I have written a lot on here about how to go about it. But for the first time I am going to need to take my own advice. We now feel settled enough in our new church to start exploring what God could want hubby and I to do. At this point I’m not even sure that it’s going to be additional needs ministry…. but then what else would I do!? The passion still burns in my heart, and I still feel like I would burst if I didn’t do this.

Psalm 37:4-7  (NIV)

Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord  and wait patiently for him;

This verse has always meant to me that God will put his desires in my heart. I know when he does, usually, because they are maybe not what I was thinking, or it is a simmering of excitement about something that I can feel is on God’s heart too. It’s always good to seek confirmation and first to look for that in God’s word. Then if needed, seek God’s guidance in talking it through with wise others, or just asking him to confirm it in a way at he knows will be clear to you.

I suppose we are at that point. Prayer has to be the start of it all, and I am such a fidgety person that being still long enough and not rushing ahead with all my ideas, is probably very good for me.

Psalm 37:7  (NIRV)

Be still and wait patiently for the Lord to act.

 

The image shows a coloured stained glass window with plain blue, purple and yellow panes of glass. A cross is in one pane near the top.

Reflecting on God’s grace and mercy.

I’ve always advised anyone thinking of starting an accessible ministry to pray first. Then to do some research so you know who is in your community and what their gifts and needs are.

As it’s now school holidays and I’m blessed with a few weeks break from my schools work, I can start to find these things out. But to get here It’s been a longer journey than it needed to be – and for that I am going to confess to you all something important.

Two years ago, when I was on the additional needs ministry team at the Keswick Convention,  God did give me a clear picture of what to pursue. But you know what, I went home and pursued the things he told me to put down. I spent a whole year of energy, stress and money, trying to get something going that wasn’t God’s plan. Then another whole year trying to get myself out of the mess I’d found myself in.  I was overwhelmed and finally surrendered everything to God….broken again.

So when he had given me the picture, and I saw what he wanted me to do…why did I disobey and do the other things instead?

I can only put it down to my human nature…and good old sin. I had a strong desire to see what could happen with the other ideas, hoping I’d be able to help lots of people who’s needs had been on my heart.  But in the end, all it did was cause me a LOT of stress and show me that I didn’t have the capacity to do it.  There have been consequences of course, one being that I’ve developed IBS through the stress and am now having to learn to manage that.

But I can sing God’s praises because never for one moment in the time of my disobedience did he leave me or forsake me.  I knew even in the darkest times that he was still there and one particularly difficult day I heard his voice reminding me that Jesus was the one I was trusting in.  God is infinitely kind and he has enabled me to learn some things that are going to be useful in the future, even from my mistakes.

There’s a lot said in churches about the consequences of sin, and I am realising that for myself.  BUT I know even more the depth of his mercy and love and how when you do confess your sins, he is faithful and just and remembers our sins no more.

So here I am, a bit older, and a bit wiser.  Last week I went to Keswick again to join the wonderful Pete and Christine Winmill from Count Everyone In.   God spoke to me again, in the same place and reminded me of his love for me and the job he’s given me to do.  He has helped me sort out the mess and now it feels like starting again, back to where I should have been and ready to do the things he’s prepared for me to do.  It’s very exciting and I want to dance with praise!

I hope I’ve learned to listen to God first time from now on.  I hope I can remember that even great ideas, that are kind, helpful and compassionate…may not be the right things for me to pursue.

I’m going back to prayer and those projects that God did say I should do two years ago.  God has wonderfully arranged for me to have some time available to start a new thing, and led us to a church where I feel I can grow, meet people who can join me and opportunities to be able to test things out.

First I’m going to start the ‘Sensory Bible Story project’.  I’d appreciate your prayers and if any of you would like to pass on any encouragement, words or pictures from God, they’d be most appreciated.

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When I was a teenager, I had a tough time.  It led me into making poor choices that had a massive impact on others as well as myself.  I left church and went in a direction that I am sure grieved God and made me very worthy of his anger and judgement.

One day I came back to God, on my own, in a quiet and beautiful place.  I told him all I had done and how I had suffered because of it. I only wanted to know he was real and if he would want a person like me.

All I received was love. Love that accepted me, forgave me and helped me change what was bad for me into a new direction in my life.

Now think about those children who come to your church group or Sunday school.  In particular the one (or ones) you breathe a sigh of relief for when they DON”T turn up.  The ones who are disruptive, make you anxious because you don’t know how to deal with them and often create havoc wherever they go.

I have spent the last couple of years researching about ADHD.  This started because some of the children I work with were being diagnosed with autism and ADHD and I wanted to understand it well so I can help them. But one thing that shocked me most was the reaction of most people when you say a child has got ADHD.  So many people immediately roll their eyes and mention how ‘naughty’ these children can be and tell you about the ‘nightmare’ of having such a child in their class or group.  I confess I had thought the same myself.

The next thing that shocked me was the impact of this on the children themselves.  They are told from an early age that they are ‘bad’.  I read a blog about a boy who thought his name was “No-Joseph”.  SO much of the feedback they get from adults around them is negative.  “Don’t”; “No”; and “Won’t” are typical words they hear throughout the day.  One piece of research I read said that ADHD children are given less understanding and are not liked by their peers from an early age.  Socially they are left out because they are ‘too much trouble’. No wonder they gravitate to others like themselves and often get into bigger trouble as young adults because they know by then that no-one cares about them, they have been written off by society, school and sometimes their families.

There are 3 types of ADHD. See below. (and notice the strengths as well as symptoms) and it is predominantly the hyperactivity and inattentiveness we notice and find difficult to handle.

ADHD

(But there are many children with the mainly inattentive type which we may miss because they seem well behaved and are undisruptive – but that’s another blog!)

God sees the heart

What I learned when I became a Christian was that God knew and understood the circumstances that led me to behaving in a sinful way.  I was happy to admit my wrongdoing before such a love as that, and it was an amazing relief to confess my sin and receive his forgiveness.  Slowly he healed my hurts and gave me a new identity in Christ. However, I do not to this day tell many people the details of what happened to me, what I did because I know they will ‘disapprove’ and judge me.  My past AND my present does not live up to the standards they think make a ‘good Christian’.  I hate that this exists in the church because when we disapprove of each other we make people think that God disapproves of them and they are not up to his standards…we are failures and therefore condemned.

Romans 8:1 : Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

The children we struggle with are condemned almost every time they come to church and we tut, sigh or despair at their arrival. They know what we think of them.  They know they struggle to sit still, to listen, not to get bored and they know they are impulsive and do things that impact on others and are always in trouble.  They know when you don’t like them.

But then they think that God must not like them either.  Because aren’t you the face of God that they see?

Hope has been a theme God has been weaving into my life and prayers recently.  We are faced with the enormity of the task of making the church more accessible, of changing attitudes and wills, and supporting those who are struggling and hurt because these things haven’t happened yet.

I have been quite overwhelmed.  But God has reminded me that there is always something we can do…

1.  We can pray

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Give thanks no matter what happens. God wants you to thank him because you believe in Christ Jesus.                                             1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This sounds obvious and I’m always reminding people to pray – but when despair and exhaustion comes, I do forget to heed my own advice.  I lose words to say because I am just looking at all the problems and all the people who need prayer.   I do believe Satan encourages us to despair – whispering lies and hopelessness into our minds.  But I have a Bible verse that crushes his attempts to keep me in this state for long…

In the same way, the Holy Spirit helps us when we are weak. We don’t know what we should pray for. But the Spirit himself prays for us. He prays through groans too deep for words. Romans 8:26

People now come to God through him. And he is able to save them completely and for all time. Jesus lives forever. He prays for them.  Hebrews 7:25

So when I don’t have words I give every groan, sigh and the tears I cry to him.  These verses remind me that these are legitimate prayers and that God hears them for both Jesus and the Spirit are interceding on our behalf.

But I also thank God for those he has brought alongside me as my partners in prayer and faith.  I’m part of a network of people who pray for each other’s ministry and lives each week.  These people are amazing in their faith and encouragement and work tirelessly to make the church accessible around the country.  They have held me up, prayed with me and encouraged me.  Thank you Lord for these people!

2.  We can remember

Lord, I will remember what you did. Yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.  Psalm 77:11

When the Psalmist was feeling down and under pressure, he declared that he was going to remember all God had done before.  I thought this sounded good advice.  So, I started to tell myself my testimony, how God brought me to him all those years ago. I remined myself of the times he saved my children’s lives, when he sent my hubby to Albania and so many more amazing interventions in ours and others lives.  So even though he seemed a bit quiet at the moment, I could see that he really had never let us go and wasn’t about to now.  I started to list all the ways God was working through the Additional Needs Alliance and through all the people across the world who are bringing the gospel to people with disabilities.  Remember how God has brought miracles into this world through his love of all people, bringing them to Jesus.

3. We can wrestle with it until we have what we want, and we can fight spiritually.

Genesis 32:28 Then the man said, “Your name will not be Jacob anymore. Instead, it will be Israel. You have wrestled with God and with people. And you have won.

Finally, let the Lord make you strong. Depend on his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armour. Then you can remain strong against the devil’s evil plans. Our fight is not against human beings. It is against the rulers, the authorities and the powers of this dark world. It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly world. Ephesians 6:10-18

It was only last week that we looked at Jacob wrestling with God in our new house group. We are starting to settle into our new church, and I feel like I am being slowly refreshed in my faith.  I had to be reminded that wrestling and struggling isn’t because I’m getting things wrong – but it is a real part of faith growing and us receiving the blessings God has promised us.  I know I need to regain the confidence I have in God’s promises and stand up for my right to have them.  It is a spiritual battle which I feel I’m going to have to relearn.  But it is so hopeful to know I can.

4. We can connect with others doing this work

God has given us a great blessing in being able to share in his work.  The most amazing thing is connecting with people who have been alone in doing these great pockets of good practice in their churches and now we are all able to connect with each other and see what is actually happening all over the country.  And the things that are happening are amazing.  I thank God for Mark Arnold (Urban Saints), Kay Morgan-Gurr, Christine and Pete Winmill  (Count Everyone In), the Through the Roof Team,  Beth (Take 5 and Chat), Disability and Jesus, John Williams (The Message Trust – Enable), all those working to make festivals, churches and the huge organisations such as Synod (especially behind the scenes) become aware and make their events accessible to all.  Anne Memmott, Bernice, Collette, and so many more that I haven’t spoken to yet. It is like God is joining all the dots!  Just this week I have had three conversations by email and Skype with people all over the country doing amazing things in their churches and with the wider church. God has lifted us up and blessed us with a simple message “I am at work”.

5. We can trust

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding. In all your ways obey him. Then he will make your paths smooth and straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6

So that leads me to the last point.  I haven’t been able to see what God is doing for a while and couldn’t work out why he has taken me on this latest path.  But when I look at what I have been able to write here and what others are doing,  I am reminded that I can trust God and do need to be obedient to him.  He is at work.  Be encouraged friends xxx

Thank you to all those who have been in touch to remind me that they are following my blog and praying for the ministry of IncludedByGrace.

I have to thank God for you because when I have struggled and wrestled with what may or may not come next, with the frustration of doing nothing (although I rarely do ‘nothing’!!!)  and coping with the change of church I have been supported and prayed for.  May God have the Glory!

In the next few months I am working with my diocese children’s workers to start conversations about accessible church and how I could support them with training and whatever else they might need. Please pray these meetings will be well attended and that we don’t just talk about it – that real action comes from this that changes the way people do things in their churches. 

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