Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Archive for the ‘refelctions’ Category

Fear of Disabilities

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Photo from http://www.lancslearningdisabilityinstitutions.org.uk 

In 1985 I went on a college visit to a ‘mental institution’ called Brockhalls Hospital in the beautiful Ribble Valley, near Whalley.  It was part of my Preliminary Certificate in Social Care course and we were doing a topic on learning disability.

It was the first time I had ever met any adults with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) or adults with physical conditions like Cerebral Palsy.  There were about a dozen or more adults, propped up in chairs or wheelchairs, arranged in a semi circle around a large day room.  It was sparse and clinical, like a you’d expect a hospital to be.  What they thought as a dozen young students piled in to look at them I don’t know.    I know most of us were caring types and so we plucked up the courage to sit beside one of the residents and try to communicate with them.  I sat by a lady, who to me looked elderly and who was rocking gently, staring into the distance.  I said hello, my name and stroked her hand for a few minutes.  Then we got up and left.

I cried when I got home.  Part of it was the shock.  The shock of seeing people so disabled was one aspect, if I am to be honest.  These people were not part of my everyday experience.  It was also the shock of realising that people had been shut away in this institution, away from the rest of the world.  It was then I began to ask what I could do about that.

This was the mid 80s and things were about to change.   By 1992 the hospital had been closed and most of its residents moved to community homes.  Some of them moved not far from where I was eventually going to live.  And my town is still well serviced by group homes for adults with learning disabilities.  “These people” are part of our community and a meeting people with learning disabilities during a trip to the supermarket, or in the town centre is daily life.   It’s one reason why our Good News Group is so well attended.  It is part of our community, for those who live in our community.

I’ve been reading about the old hospitals. There is a community exhibition that I’m going to see next week and a website to go with it.    I remember my fear on the way to visit Brockholes in that college year.  The 17 year old me was more worried about how I would be able to communicate with the residents, what I might do to offend them and whether I would look stupid in front of my classmates.  Fears my classmates probably shared.   But this visit had a profound effect on me.  Not yet a Christian at that age,  God was already preparing and teaching me for my future.

I learned that fear was born out of my ignorance.  I didn’t know these people I was meeting, I didn’t know about their conditions.  But I also learned that making that first step, of going to sit with that lady and to say hello, took away a lot of that fear.  I’ve always, ever since, made a particular effort to speak and say hello to anyone with disabilities that I meet.  A fulfilling life, an invitation, an offer of help, an opportunity  to join in, a chance to share their talents and serve others – these are all things that people with learning disabilities are prevented from by our fear.  The Church of England are currently debating the value and place of people with Down’s Syndrome in our society and Churches.  What’s the biggest problem they face? – not things they can’t do – but other people’s fears.  These fears are always wrapped up in political language…the scarcity of resources,  quality of life and ‘their own good’.  When what we really fear is the challenge to us in making a more inclusive society, sharing our resources more evenly and putting the systems in place to help those who need better accessibility.

I know people fear what they don’t know or understand.  I know we fear embarrassment, or offending someone or not knowing what to say or do.  We fear having to be challenged out of our comfortable ways that only make comfort for certain people, and make barriers for others.

Imagine being the one who no-one talks to, or no-one bothers to try to communicate with, the one other people think is worth less than others?  We have to take God’s words to our hearts and “Do not fear”.   Because our fear is causing too many people to be excluded, bullied, exploited, abused and ignored – and that IS in our churches as well as in society.

God took the initiative in communicating his love for us.  If he’d not bothered, we would truly be lost.  His son Jesus communicates the same message to everyone.  So my plea is please ‘do not fear’ and make the effort to find out, welcome and include people with learning disabilities and other additional needs into your lives.

Nurse Holding Elderly Patient's Hand

picture from http://www.google.co.uk stock

(Note: This post came out of a conversation I had some time ago with a friend who had spent his early life in one of these institutions and had moved out in the 80s when he was about the same age as me at the time.  He had a lot to say about being ignored by society and I said I would try my best to communicate the things we had talked about.) 

 

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When you can’t do it all and God brings others alongside…

I’m going to be blogging less.  I’ve been struggling to maintain writing this and my autism teaching blog because of other commitments.  I have eventually realised that I don’t need to feel so stressed or guilty – that the Lord is taking me on a different path for now.  I also have a job which is ministry in itself, the Roofbreakers Network to organise and my educational writing projects.  I need to be kinder to myself and take a break now and again, as well as realising God isn’t asking me to do any of this alone.  Only in his strength but also with the teams of people he is connecting me with.  Thank you Lord!

What’s happening?

  1. Since I wrote this blog about putting together an “Included by Grace” book   that work has been steadily going on in the background.  I’ve enlisted my daughter and my dad to help me and we are putting the content together so I can edit it.  images
  2. But also there’s another couple of projects starting to take form.  One of them is a long held vision I’ve had to share our Bible teaching materials online so people with learning disabilities themselves can access the teaching and people who want to plan for groups like ours can also access that teaching and planning.  Well, despite being terrified  (of all the things I don’t know) God has brought alongside me people who get it,  people who are doing similar things and people who want to help.  So our plans to have an accessible Bible teaching website are in the early planning stages but at last seem to be a possibility.   One real encouragement recently was to be put in contact with two other women doing something similar.  One is doing this for children, one for teenagers.  That fits in perfectly with my plans to do this for adults.   Thanks to Mark Arnold from Urban Saint’s Additional Needs Ministry for connecting us!     4 pieces
  3. Finally, it is also a dream to enable the members of our Good News Group to share the gospel with others and we are going to try putting a team together to do assemblies in some of our local special schools.  It would be great for our members to be role models for the children in those schools.  Again, God is good,  I have people who get it, who want to help and even some links with people who have done this before and will share ideas (If you know of anyone else who has done this please ask them to get in touch with me).

All that and it’s the Christmas season so our group is gearing up for it’s annual outreach Christmas service on Wednesday.  They are all so excited.  And then on the following Wednesday, 5 of the group have been learning a puppet dance to “Celebrate the Child” by Michael Card.  I led a workshop about teaching puppets to adults with learning disabilities at the One Way UK European Puppet Festival in October.  This is us putting our words into practice… I might write a post about how we did it and what the challenges were another time.  I know its going to be fabulous and everyone will enjoy it.

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So for blogging…

I hope if you follow my blog you won’t forget about us.  I will repost some of my old blogs, especially the practical advice ones and share them on FB and twitter.  Includedbygrace now has a FB page if you’d like to follow it.  You can comment on there and keep in touch.  And I’m on twitter as @includedbygrace   And pray.  We’d appreciate that a lot.

If you will share includedbygrace blog, FB and Twitter pages on your own network it will help me build and audience for the book, website and whatever else comes from this.  I’m still available for training in churches across the North West and the Additional Needs Alliance Network can find you trainers elsewhere.

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The Power is in Jesus’s Name

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Image from:   http://walkwithjesusonline.com/power-holy-spirit/

This song has been going through my head recently….

There is power in the name of Jesus
We believe in His name.
We have called on the name of Jesus;
We are saved! We are saved!
At His name the demons flee.
At His name captives are freed.
For there is no other name that is higher
Than Jesus!

There is power in the name of Jesus,
Like a sword in our hands.
We declare in the name of Jesus,
We shall stand! We shall stand!
At His name God’s enemies
Shall be crushed beneath our feet.
For there is no other name that is higher
Than Jesus!

Noel Richards

© 1989 Thankyou Music | CCLI: 649800

Over the years I’ve been a Christian, Jesus has done some very powerful things in my life. One of the biggest things has been the power that has given me the ability to overcome anxiety and depression.  Nothing amazing to you maybe, but life changing for me.  Jesus is the source of that power and unless I’m ‘plugged in’ through prayer, praise and reminding myself of God’s Word, I can easily drift back into my former ways.  Jesus’s power is holding me tight, but I do occasionally forget that he’s got hold of me and isn’t EVER going to let me go!

Romans 4:20-22New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’

Romans 15:12-14New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

12 And again, Isaiah says,

‘The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.’[a]

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

There has been some good news and developments but I got scared.  I was worried that with no funds and not much time all the dreams I feel the Lord has put on my heart will fail.

How can I forget His power and provision?  If this is God’s work – he can fund it, surely!  The answer to my prayers is that there are other people out there, who have the same heart and abilities that I don’t have who want to come on board.  God is building a team.

Since my post about writing an “Included By Grace” book things have moved on a bit.  We’re putting the blog posts into word documents so they can be edited and developed into book form.  I’ve had an exciting meeting with two Christian web developers who are full of amazing ideas to bring my dream of making our Good News Group Bible teaching materials available to others a reality.

I’m being asked to do some bits of work with my Diocese Youth section to present workshops, give advice and support churches wanting to make their Youth events accessible.  We are going to make a guide for Youth Groups so that they can use this when starting to plan events.  Thanks to BG for his enthusiasm and encouragement in developing this.

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This was my puppet being Samson for our sensory story – dig the hair?

In half term, I went down to Rugby to present 4 workshops at the One Way UK, European Puppet and Creative Arts Festival.  We covered autism, Sensory Bible Stories, Using Makaton and picture symbols for communication and How we teach puppet skills to adults with learning disabilities.  I had a hoot of a weekend!  I loved feeling relaxed and being able to play with sensory stories and puppets! The best part of the weekend was when three different people came to me to tell me how after listening to me last year, they had gone back to their churches and done something new that had made a huge difference to people with disabilities in their churches.  It was worth the year wait to hear such wonderful testimonies!

And I’m back to the GNG this week.  My hopes are to continue building up the abilities and opportunities for the members to share their stories, their gifts and their ideas in the group.  But more than this, I want them to have opportunities to go out into the community and share the gospel with others who have learning disabilities and those who don’t.  I want to see them preaching and teaching others about the Bible.

It will only happen if we are ‘plugged into’ the Power of Jesus’ Name.  The Holy Spirit will give us what we need.  Please join us in praying for this work.  We are inadequate, but Jesus is fully adequate and able to do more than we could ask or imagine!

Ephesians 3:20-21New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

I don’t want to do the ‘judging others’ thing anymore.


Deep in my spirit I’m feeling very uneasy.  There’s thoughts bubbling around in my brain that I keep trying to pop, to push down into the recesses of my mind so I can get on with life ignoring them.  But bubbles rise to the top. And so do these thoughts. 

They concern judging.  Humans have ALWAYS judged each other. The constant power struggles, the instinct to belittle others so that we come out on top is innate in all of us. Just ask yourself who you are jealous of? For me it’s the people with hundreds of thousands of pounds to buy a house in the country on my favourite programme ‘Escape to the Country’.  But I criticise them too easily.  I reveal my jealousy every time I watch the programme. I’m not happy for them when they buy that lovely house in the country.  I’m finding lots of reasons why they don’t deserve it and I do. 

Judging is endemic in the church. However much we try not to, as soon as we say that who someone is, is wrong or that someone can’t because of who they are…we’ve made a judgement about their worthiness. And that’s the root of judgement that I see.  Who’s worthy and who isn’t. And logically, we fall into the trap of thinking that if some people are worthy and some are not…well then, I must make sure no one thinks I AM UNWORTHY.  So we work hard, try our best and put on a show.  We act our way to being seen as worthy.  

And boy do we act. We pretend that we’re trying to pray more. We pretend we’re trying to read our Bible every day (and don’t we feel good when we get the chance to say ‘when I did my quiet time this morning…). We pretend we’re reviewing our giving so we can be just over that 10% gold standard (so we’re better than those who aren’t giving regularly.)  We pretend that going to three evening meetings a week doesn’t hack us off and we wouldn’t rather sit veg-ing in front of the TV after a hard day at work. We pretend we must be a good and faithful servant when the umpteenth rota pings into our inbox, (well we tick the ‘serving in church’ box at least). We try not to ‘tut’ along with the church leader who says they know some people aren’t giving/serving and what a burden that puts on everyone else.  And we all know people that just wouldn’t be welcome or ‘fit in’ at our church. We probably ‘tut’ at all the dirty, poor, criminal, sinning people in the local newspaper.  Well, we wouldn’t do those things, we’re Christians aren’t we? 

You can pretend you don’t (that’s up to you) but we are constantly comparing ourselves with others. We are constantly judging whether others are as worthy as us or whether we’ll ever be as worthy as them.  We are judging using the Bible, of all things, as our justification.  We say these people or those people are not worthy because this or that is sin – and they do that thing so they are sinners.  They are judged.  

But who gave us the authority to judge others in this way. Surely we’re all sinners?   That means we are on a level playing field here. We’ll all stand before God one day and face the ultimate judgement, by the One who IS given the authority to do so.  The Bible is very clear that Jesus, the Son of God, who died on the cross and was raised to life, is the only one with the authority to judge.  

To me, it seems that we must be claiming we are Jesus if we judge. We are usurping him. We are doing what Adam and Eve did and saying we know as much as God. We don’t need him. We can do the judging and tell God who’s in and who’s out….we’ll save him the bother. 

I’m tired of all this.  I’ve listened and struggled with the churches judgement on women, LGBT, disabilities and so many other ‘unworthy’ peoples.  I never saw Jesus turn anyone away from him.   People came to him and he ministered to them.  He changed people, yes….But it came out of their relationship, their surrender to him.   It came out of his compelling kindness and compassion.  Some walked away from him.   And many of those were those who thought they were already worthy.  

I repent of my judging others. I repent of not being brave enough to write this blog before or speak up for those being judged by the church.   It was an interview with a Bishop on local radio this morning that prompted this response in me. It was a masterclass in avoiding the question.  I suddenly thought how tired I was of these games.  I surrender.  To Jesus I surrender.   He’s the one I love because he didn’t judge me, he forgave me and for all these years of being a Christian I’ve known nothing except his kindness and grace. I don’t deserve any of it.  And for certain, no-one, absolutely no-one deserves to be judged by me. 

When God speaks to you in a language you understand…

When we work with adults who have learning disabilities (the key word is “with” because working together is what we do), often the people who don’t have learning disabilities say how much the way we communicate makes more sense to them as well.  When we have shorter talks, the Accessible Bible text, visuals, Makaton and BSL signing, a visual timetable, drama, sensory stories and interaction – then we find that all the carers, team and visitors learn just as much about the Bible as those who have learning disabilities.   We are communicating in ways that help people understand the Gospel and the truths about Jesus in the Bible.

When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, a key feature was that the disciples started to speak to the crowds in languages that they understood.  I think the same applies to how we use signing, visuals and other forms of communication in our groups today.  We are speaking in languages that people in our group understand.  And it is the Holy Spirit who helps us do this.

God knows I am a visual learner.  Visuals give my brain a better understanding than if someone tries to explain things to me in words.  When I met with a financial adviser about setting up a new pension, he drew a diagram to explain all the complex financial information about setting it up for me.  The normally complex information that would have gone way over my head, made sense in the way he communicated it.  I felt confident that I understand my pension and the new laws surrounding it.

God knows my brain better than anyone.  He made it and he knows just how to communicate to me so that I understand his word and his will.  Over the years I’ve been a Christian, God has often given me pictures to show me what he wants me to do, or explain something I don’t understand.  Those pictures have been in dreams, in art,  and lots of them have been in nature… because that’s often where I go to pray and ask him what he wants me to do.

For over a year I have had 5 big ideas going around my head.  All of them were in response to the needs of others that I have seen around me.  All of them were valid, valuable services but to do all of them would be impossible.  When I was in Keswick this year I sat looking at this view.

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I counted 5 mountains to represent each of the projects that were in my mind and asked God to show me which ones I should be working on.  The projects seem like mountains to climb.  There will be a lot of work and new things to learn as I navigate getting to the summit.  I thought the analogy of mountains suited my query to the Lord quite well.

One evening I again asked God to answer my prayers and show me which mountains to climb and which not to.  I looked up to the view and suddenly two of the mountains were covered in cloud, where none of them had been a few minutes ago.  The clouds stayed over these mountains for long enough for me to ask God if that really was my answer and for me to receive a deep sense of peace that it was.

God again was speaking to me in a language that I understand.  Pictures make sense to me.  I can ‘see’ the message and the Holy Spirit confirms it.  On that same evening I was listening to the message at the Keswick Convention on my computer.  The message was about mission.   The answer to my prayers was about mission.   I’m taking that as confirmation and going for it.  I’m praying for protection, resources and guidance.  And in my next post…I’ll tell you what those mission plans are…

Living hopefully in the storm

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Some of you will have read a post I put up a few days ago called “Storm before the Calm.”  I have taken this down as I was embarrassed at how raw it was.  I was having a bad weekend emotionally but thanks to a lovely friend who helped me feel much better after a good chat,  I’m rewriting it as something that can stay on the blog.  (Thanks so much to those that already replied – I have all your comments and you are much appreciated).

Like a lot of people, I have been quite upset by things way beyond my control.  The main things that have ‘stormed’ into my life are:

  1. The news – terrorist attacks, tower block fires, the stupid election (my views are my own!) and just not knowing what the government are doing. I still don’t want Brexit and the process frightens me. It’s unsettling, hard to escape.  Two girls from my town died in the Manchester attack.  Everyone I know shares the worry and grief over all the incidents and events in our country these past months.

 

  1. A death happened. A young person took their own life.  I’m grieving for them and their family.  I have been researching mental health and young people and find that we are ignoring the risks and pressures that affect our young people.  It feels like we are sleepwalking into a crisis.  Many people think that’s already happening.  I’m praying and wondering what the church should be doing.

 

  1. For some time I’ve been wondering about how I can share much more of the resources we’ve built up over 10 years of our Good News Group. Particularly our Bible teaching materials but also sharing our story and training for churches.  I want so much to give our adults in the group, opportunity to speak for themselves and for others with learning disabilities to have access to good teaching materials.

 

And this is where I asked for help in my last post.  If you read includedbygrace regularly I’d like to hear from you.  If you’ve happened to read it by random google search, I want to hear from you.  I want to know what you think of includedbygrace and the information I share.  What it means to you and how it has helped you (or not).

If you want to say a pray for this please pray that God will make this what he wants it to be.  I have been blessed by a conversation with two web developers who are interested in designing an accessible website with me.  Maybe that’s a thing that includedbygrace can become.  I have no funding, only faith at this point in time.  But I believe in a God who funds his own projects.

My second idea is to build a team of trainers from our Good News Group who can tell churches how they can be better included.  I experimented with doing this by video when I went to London and this was one way of sharing their voice.  Locally I can take people to places we speak.

Thirdly, I’d love to reach out to special schools in our area.  Maybe with assemblies or sensory Bible stories.  I’d need a team of GNG members to help me…and again the logistics are huge.  But not for God!

In my mind are a lot of other random ideas.  I only want to go in the direction God has prepared and not waste time on things that won’t work.  The aim is to spread the gospel and disciple children, teens and adults with learning disabilities, giving them accessible Bible teaching and resources.  Also, it is to equip churches to do this work too.  We are a small team…living hopefully in the storms…

The Storm before the calm.

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Which way is the right way?        photo from http://www.i.telegraph.co.uk  

Psalm 143  

A praise song of David.

143 Lord, hear my prayer.
    Listen to my call for help and answer my prayer.
    Show me how good and loyal you are.
Don’t judge me, your servant.
    No one alive could be judged innocent by your standards.
My enemies are chasing me.
    They have crushed me into the dirt.
They are pushing me into the dark grave,
    like people who died long ago.
I am ready to give up.
    I am losing my courage.
But I remember what happened long ago.
    I am thinking about all you have done.
    I am talking about what you made with your hands!
I lift my hands in prayer to you.
    I am waiting for your help, like a dry land waiting for rain. 

Hurry and answer me, Lord!
    I have lost my courage.
Don’t turn away from me.
    Don’t let me die and become like the people lying in the grave.
Show me your faithful love this morning.
    I trust in you.
Show me what I should do.
    I put my life in your hands!
Lord, I come to you for protection.
    Save me from my enemies.
10 Show me what you want me to do.
    You are my God.
Let your good Spirit lead me over level ground.
11 Lord, let me live
    so that people will praise your name.
Show me how good you are
    and save me from my trouble.
12 Show me your love
    and defeat my enemies.
Destroy those who are trying to kill me
    because I am your servant.

Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)Copyright © 2006 by Bible League International

 

It has been difficult for me to keep up with my blog recently.  I even wonder if anyone is at all bothered about that…

But it has been difficult because the Lord seems to be taking me through a storm.  Not literally, but in my life and in my thoughts, there is a storm raging.  And it’s exhausting me.

I’ve started to pray through Psalm 143 as above.  One thing I have learned in all these years as a Christian is that storms have been good for me.  Not while I’m in the middle of them – but always afterwards there is a new thing in my life because some old things have been sorted out.  God is good like that.

So I trust Jesus and only him to see this storm through.  I hold onto his promises as I wait for the winds to decide which direction they want to settle on (i.e.. which path I should take) and while I wait for the lightening strikes to subside (i.e.. hopefully the problems being thrown my way will ease off.)  The heavy rain is like all the emotions I feel as the storm rages; the emotions pour on me and soak me through.   I’d like those to ease off please.

But I know that God uses the storms to clear the air and refresh the land.

I have been praying about the next steps for ‘includedbygrace’ for a long while now.  I think God is wanting me to move into something new and develop it into more useful things for and with people with learning disabilities, so that they can learn more about Jesus in a way that is accessible.

If you read this (and can make any sense of it – and if you can’t – I shall have to try again to make it more sense-able!)  could you write a comment or send me a message and tell me what ‘includedbygrace’ means to you, what you have got out of it and what you think it could do more of?

Thank you

Lynn  x

 

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