Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#prayer’

2017 – A consistent God in an unpredictable world.

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It’s that funny week we have every year when we’re not sure what day it is and there’s nothing much going on.  The TV is full of films and the odd ‘Christmas Special’, and we might be asking each other “What are you doing for New Year?”.

As we think about what happened in 2016 and what 2017 might be like it can seem very frightening.  2016 was full of wars, political upheavals and celebrity deaths (Even over Christmas we lost Rick Parfitt, George Michael and Carrie Fisher).  We got Brexit and Donald Trump, we have millions of refugees and no-one knows when there might be an end to the wars in the Middle East or the terrorism in Europe, Africa and Pakistan.  It’s no surprise that people are anxious about the future and don’t feel like celebrating on New Year’s Eve.

However, as Christians we have a hope that goes beyond the things we can see and hear on the news.  We have a God who doesn’t change and who promises to be with us.  The news does report the spreading of the gospel in the Middle East or the millions of daily interactions God has with his people through the Holy Spirit active on the earth.  They don’t report how Jesus is interceding for us at the right hand of the Father’s throne.  But despite all we hear in the news or don’t – God is a God that keeps his promises.  In these times of uncertainty, we have to hold on to His words and not let ourselves get caught up in the panic of the world’s view.

Isaiah 41:10  Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

Don’t worry—I am with you.

Don’t be afraid—I am your God.

I will make you strong and help you.

I will support you with my right hand that brings victory.

I hope these verses will encourage you this New Year.  2017 might bring worse news or better news. We cannot know.  But our Father in heaven, our saviour Jesus and the Holy Spirit are who we worship and who we have put our faith in.  If you haven’t and you are reading this, then please investigate more.  Read one of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John and see who this Jesus is.  He is God made flesh.  He came to show us what the Father is like.  If we know Jesus and put our faith in Him, then we know the Father.  We couldn’t have anything better in our lives.  I hope you find that truth in your life.  Here is one of his promises that always gives me hope, no matter what the future looks like in this world.

Micah 7:18-20The Message (MSG)

Where is the god who can compare with you—

wiping the slate clean of guilt,

Turning a blind eye, a deaf ear,

to the past sins of your purged and precious people?

You don’t nurse your anger and don’t stay angry long,

for mercy is your specialty. That’s what you love most.

And compassion is on its way to us.

You’ll stamp out our wrongdoing.

You’ll sink our sins

to the bottom of the ocean.

You’ll stay true to your word to Father Jacob

and continue the compassion you showed Grandfather Abraham—

Everything you promised our ancestors

from a long time ago.

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People with learning disabilities are scared about the news too.

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This past month has been really difficult for me.  It was building up since before the Brexit vote, but that tipped the scales.  I’ve been worrying about even watching the news, wondering what horrible event will happen next.  I’ve been upset with the political situations in Britain, Turkey, America, and the middle east.  Upset about the violence, murder and persecution of people all around the world.  I’ve been trying to pray for those killed and hurt in attacks, not just in Europe, not just those splashed across the newspapers in our country, but the forgotten and ignored tragedies in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and other countries.

But I’m overwhelmed.  On top of the exhaustion that comes to every teacher at the end of the school year, I want to yell at God…”STOP THE WORLD…AND LET ME GET OFF!”  I’ve not been sure how to cope at all.

And it was in this state that I set up the ‘Day of Prayer for our Nation’ on Facebook. (Join me here if you still want to pray).  That did help a lot.  In searching the Bible for guidance and when a wonderful friend offered to help, we remembered our response to this world is to pray and to share God’s love.  Praying through those prayers as the day went on, really helped calm my troubled soul…and continue to do so.

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It is so important to include people with learning disabilities in our engagement with what is going on in the world. They worry too. They hear and are affected by what is going on, sometimes more directly than we are.  (Take the Government’s welfare reforms as an example). We can pray with them and give them access to praying with us if we help their communication.  The accessible prayers are just one example. Signing or pictures may help  some. I know L’Arche communities are wonderfully experienced in building the prayer lives of everyone in their communities.

On the Wednesday, at our usual Good News Group meeting we set aside some time to pray for our nation, using the accessible prayers that I had made for the Friday.  Each table had a set and the members and carers each chose a prayer to offer, in our usual ways of either reading it out themselves, a team member reading it for them or just by placing it in the centre of the table, showing that they are offering their prayers to God.

Everyone there took a prayer and offered it to the Lord. What really struck me was their real concerns and worries about Brexit and all that was happening.  People with learning disabilities hear things on the news and worry the same as the rest of us, we shouldn’t be surprised.  They too want to make sense of it all.  The comments I want to share with you show how much they care about this.

D, who isn’t a Christian but comes to the group every week, was really fascinated by the prayers we had set out on the table.  He said “I’m really glad you’ve put these out.  I don’t believe but I want you to pray about this…” and he passed a card to one of the team to pray. 

V said “I’ve been hearing about all this on the news. It’s terrible.  What’s going to happen, I don’t know.” and she chose a prayer for all the politicians. 

E said, “I’m worried about what will happen to my carer.  She’s not from this country.  I’m scared they are going to take her away, then who’s going to help me then? She’s lovely is my carer. I don’t want another one.” 

And all around the room, people with learning disabilities were joining in as prayer warriors for this nation.  Lord hear our prayers.  Lord have mercy.  Lord hear our prayers.

I’m hoping that others have joined us too.  I sent out the accessible prayers to a few people who asked for them, so if you were one of those, I’d love to hear how your prayer times went.

I feel that God has been sending me encouragement this week in two blogs I have read.  I am sharing them here and hope that if you feel overwhelmed and discouraged they will help you too.  Firstly Anthony Delany reminded me of the parable Jesus told us about how we should know that there is evil in this world. God is allowing the weeds and the wheat to grow in the ground together but he will protect his wheat and burn the weeds at the harvest.  It helped me.  And then Helen Murray encouraged me by reminding me of how Gideon felt when God asked him to fight the Midionites – and to go in the strength that we have because God is with us.  Thank you both.

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Reflections 2015 and Resolutions 2016

Our Welcome Booklet

Our Welcome Booklet

“But the true idea [of Genesis 1:26,28] is that you’re to invest your abilities to create value on the earth, to plant and to build and write and organise and heal and invent ways that bless people and cause God’s kingdom on earth to flourish.”   UCB Word for Today 28.12.15

“I remain confident of this, I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.  Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart, and wait for the LORD.”      Psalm 27:13-14

Reflections 2015

  1. It’s only when you stop and look back that you realise another year has gone by and wonder did you make it count? I could list all the time I’ve wasted, all the things I wished I’d done but didn’t and all the times and chances I missed to do something less selfish.  I’ve been spending time in the Psalms this year and all my faults, worries, regrets and concerns are there… and that is so comforting.  The best thing about the Psalms is that each one can be summed up as this…  “Life is often really rubbish; But GOD IS GOOD.”
  2. The Good News Group has continued to be a great joy in my life, but this year we have had some difficult times and challenges.  Towards the end of the year we seemed to be struggling and as leaders, we felt under attack.  We did, what we always know we need to do and that was to come back to prayer.  We realised that in our haste to get everything set up each week, our prayer time had been pushed aside and some weeks didn’t even happen.  So, with repentance we got back to praying and also hosted a whole church prayer meeting in the week of prayer. Things have been getting better since… we shouldn’t be surprised at that!
  3. Two of our GNG members went to be with the Lord this year and we do miss them.  It is so different when you know someone responded to the gospel and knew Jesus as their saviour. Praise God that these two men did.
  4. We’ve had three meetings of the disability network (now called Lancashire Roofbreakers) and we are very grateful for the network and support from Tim Wood at Through the Roof.  It is wonderful to see people from different churches coming together to see how we can promote and support more inclusion of people with disabilities.  One church has now started a children’s ministry which is very inclusive of children with additional needs and another has a regular autism friendly children’s event.  I am sure there is a lot more to come from within this group.  God willing.
  5. I had a BRILLIANT time as part of the Keswick Convention Team with Prospects in the summer.
  6. Over the past 6 years I have been collating the teaching materials we have written for adults with learning disabilities, on different books of the Bible. I am beginning to explore how we can share these with others and sent them out to a couple of people we might be able to partner with to make them available more widely.  We are blessed with a great Bible teaching church and have some new team members willing to write a session each term.

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Resolutions 2016 (Our prayer list!)

  1. To pray more…learning the lesson from this year, we cannot exist without making the Lord the focus of all we do.  He wants us to go forward in his will and bless us, so we cannot afford to lose our way by doing anything without God. We have loved teaching our members to pray at the Good News Group and we can make sure that we include them in praying for the things we teach, the relationships we have with each other and for those who are struggling.
  2. To make disciples… to help those who have been coming to GNG for a long time to grow in their faith and to make new disciples from the many people with learning disabilities and their carers whom we have not yet reached.  This is going to challenge us to get out and reach out to new people in our community.  The challenges include time to do so (many of our team work) and to pray for opportunities.  I think God wants to open doors for us and we want to be able to take those opportunities.
  3. To make our teaching materials available to others.  I’m in discussion about this, as I said, but whether it is put in printed form or online will be a decision to make.  I’m leaning towards an online version that people can subscribe to – what would you prefer? Would you use Bible study materials for adults with learning disabilities?
  4. To do all we can to reach out to other churches and support them in including children and adults with additional needs. Personally this will mean praying about how I can use my own experience to support churches, but also by putting on some courses such as Makaton training from Prospects, some courses from Through the Roof and the All Inclusive training from Urban Saints.  This will take some organising and marketing, so prayers for this will be appreciated.  I have an idea about putting on a conference later in 2016 or even the year after.  I’ve no idea how to do that, but if it is God’s will, I’m sure he can make it happen.

There, I am stopping before I get carried away.   If you could remember us in your prayers, that would be wonderful, and if you are involved in ministry with people with additional needs, tell us your prayer needs below and we will pray for you.  Our Good News Group love to pray and we will make a symbol for your prayers and add them to our sessions.

Just do something…

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Hello Faithful blog readers and new-to-this-blog visitors.

I have been thinking about who you might be, apart from comments, me reading your blogs or if I know you on another media there are very few clues as to who you are.

All I hope is that the insights, thoughts and advice I can share will help someone somewhere feel more confident and able to reach out to people with learning disabilities in their life and church.

Have you ever taken time out of your busy life just to reflect, pray and contemplate with God?  Was it last week, or last year, or even years ago?  There is great value in doing this but then there is the hurdle of actually doing it – organising work, family, life – to make a bit of space for you…and then we feel guilty.

But we mustn’t feel guilty…

This week I have made some space to reflect, seek God and to chat to people I trust about trying new things, dealing with hurdles and what seem to be huge mountains in the inclusion of people with learning disabilities in our churches.  I am fortunate to have two very supportive leaders at church who both are very encouraging, willing and wise in working towards a more inclusive church.  Both realise that we have a long way to go and both realise how far we have come.

The conclusion I have drawn from their wisdom is that we must not give into fear.  When we don’t know what to do, fear can imprison us and we end up doing nothing. Therefore as one of them so wisely put it ‘what ever we do will be something this time next year we weren’t doing already.’

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So my plea and encouragement to you is to just do something…anything…that makes a small faltering step forward. And here are just a few suggestions…

  • Say hello, introduce yourself and ask their name to someone who has learning disabilities in your church, supermarket, street, any place.  Adult or child. Then pray for them.
  • Offer to do something practical at a group for people with learning disabilities – make the tea, clean up, put the tables out…anything really that helps and gives you chance to acclimatise to being around people with learning disabilities. you can then watch how others speak and interact with them and learn from their example.
  • Meet with parents of a child with additional needs for a tea and cake session.  Just listen and maybe ask them what THEY would like you to know and how could you pray for them. Then keep in touch and do what you promised – pray!
  • Ask God to take away your fear and bring opportunities to try out the new courage he gives you…
  • If you are a church or Sunday School leader use more visual images, slow down, break things into chunks and use objects that stimulate the senses.  You’d be surprised at how many more people would engage with your talks – not just PLD!
  • Think of where you’d like to be, what you’d like to be able to see in your church or group to make it inclusive. See it as a step on a tall staircase and then step onto the first step no-matter how far away the goal seems to be.

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  • Don’t think you are alone. We Are the Body of Christ and we were meant to work together. Network via social media, blogs and other people in your church, diocese, look at inclusive church websites and email them for a chat…I would support, help and encourage any of you and I know many others would too – just look at some of the people and organisations I have linked up with below.

Finally – who are you?  What are you doing reading this blog?  What are your simple ideas that would help others JUST DO SOMETHING?

My networks:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/additionalneedsalliance/  – you can apply to join this group – so many great people to connect and share with.

http://www.prospects.org.uk/index.php/whatwedo/2/7  – a charity our Good News Group is supported by.

http://www.throughtheroof.org/ourprogramme/churches-inc  – lots of good resources and is developing regional networks.

http://www.careforthefamily.org.uk/Family+life/parent-support/parenting_additional_challenges/additional_needs_support – just full of care!

http://musingsofakidsworker.blogspot.co.uk – Kay’s blog which is very informative.

http://www.snappin.org/   and their blog (do sign up for by email – daily encouragement!)  http://www.snappin.org/#!blogger-feed/cund  An American Special Needs Ministry that is amazing.

http://www.acceptrespectconnect.co.uk/  – just look at what they do!

 

 

 

 

ASC? What’s that?

This is the most common question I have been asked since setting up my own freelance specialist support service. At first I thought “Oh no! Maybe I should have called myself something else so people won’t be confused?”

But actually, that question has led me to have some great conversations with people.  I have been able to tell them about Autism Spectrum CONDITION, (ASC) and why I have chosen to use this definition over the word ‘disorder’ or even ‘disability’.  I was even blessed enough to then outline my service and my vision for supporting, training, advising and making resources for all kinds of organisations and individuals so that they can include and support someone on the autism spectrum in what they do.

So…here I am. Newbie business woman as from Jan 1st 2014! And here’s my logo!

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I had to think of a name to work under and choosing one is not as easy as you think.  However, I do go on the premise that simplicity is best (and the ‘Ronseal’ principle of it does what it says on the tin!) and chose REACHOUT ASC as my name.  That’s what I want to do…reach out and help people understand ASC.  And this will definitely include churches, so if you want training, help and support for your church do get in touch. There will be links, events and resources that I will post on my blog in the future so do look out for them.

Starting up on your own is a bit like stepping off a cliff and hoping someone might catch you…

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As a person who has faith in Jesus Christ, I am expecting Him to catch me and take me where he leads.  Now that is scary but gives me a real positive outlook on everything (including my car dying in the first week of business!) and tons of hope for the future. I know he will be there when things go wrong, work is slow to come in, I get lots of work and need wisdom to make decisions, say the right advice and support children and adults at very vulnerable and difficult times.  I day this because all through my Christian life (and even before this – when I didn’t realise at the time) Jesus has been faithful.  I have grown so much as a person through the most difficult times and will always trust him because he has proved so many times that he is who he says he is.

And for those of you who read A Bigger Vision wall http://wp.me/p2MVJu-a4 and Running away – God and Elijah  http://wp.me/p2MVJu-bY posts thank you for your prayers, they have helped me take this leap and realise I wasn’t running away from but to something. I really appreciate strangers who care enough to pray. God Bless you.

Good News Group News

For those who want to know – Good News Group starts back up again this Wednesday (15th January).  See main page for times and structure. https://includedbygrace.wordpress.com/the-good-news-group-2/

This term we are learning about Saul’s conversion and his life as Paul, preacher to the gentiles. We are learning how it wasn’t always easy, sometimes dangerous, often turned out very differently to what he expected and sometimes amazing.

Through all this Paul is a person we can look up to. He was humble, fiercely passionate about the gospel, always prayed for others and never gave up, no matter what happened.

I’m looking forward to learning about him too!

Non Sibi Sed Aliis – not for myself but for others….

 

What if we accepted criticism and did something about it?

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No-one likes being criticised or told off.

We don’t like being told we don’t measure up, meet the standards or that we have failed.

The problems in our society have roots in our individualisation of people. We are told we can do anything we want, if it feels right then do it, and that we are all valuable, special and have rights.

But what happens when you live by your feelings is that if you don’t feel like it then you don’t do it or don’t put in any effort to do it well. If we feel hurt then we think the person who has hurt our feelings must be in the wrong. We think it is what matters to us is more important than what happens for the good of others.

A local school has a motto “Non Sibi Sed Aliis” which means not for myself but for others.

When we are criticised, told off or disciplined so many people get cross, indignant and defensive. The cry of children “it wasn’t me, it wasn’t my fault” has become the mantra of adults in the workplace, in the home and in society at large.

Defending ourselves and being indignant takes up a lot of time and energy. It causes us stress and leads to complaining and gossiping. It takes up an awful lot of our time, preparing argument, reasons for why it isn’t our fault and counter criticisms that we can throw back at others. We become anxious, ill and tired. We don’t feel valued and can constantly feel under threat.

It happens in families, between friends, in the workplace, in government…and in our places of worship.

How many people have left marriages, families, jobs, churches because they feel that they can’t take the criticism, that they are being unfairly treated, overlooked, persecuted?

Our obsession with defending ourselves at all cost means it becomes difficult to sort out the real unfair criticism and bullying from the truth that our actions are not up to standard or helpful to others. (And I am not talking about that kind of criticism in this post) Or maybe we are the one who criticises and judges others? Maybe we are fed up of others being defensive and negative at whatever we say to them? Maybe we judge others so harshly that if they don’t measure up to our expectations we think they are useless, worthless and we don’t want to know them any more?

Non Sibi Sed Aliis – not for myself but for others….

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One simple but possibly impossible solution is for us to develop a culture where it is okay to fail…but not to give up.

This means thinking of the greater good and accepting criticism…and that it is okay. Even writing this makes me take in my breath. I have been subject to criticism a lot in my job and in my marriage, as a parent and as a part of my church…but actually…often this criticism has been correct. I don’t always meet the standards expected of me at work. I am sometimes unfair to my family and fail in my parenting techniques. I do say the wrong thing to people and let them down, I also judge others and criticise them with the same criticisms leveled at me…don’t you?

And still I HATE being criticised. I often think it is being unfair and that I have a good defense. But really, if I think about it, mostly the person telling me off loves or respects me and is just pointing something out that is harming them or myself and our relationship.

Non Sibi Sed Aliis – not for myself but for others….

There is a lot of unfairness in our world today. Some people are cruel, nasty and bullies and they must be stopped. However, not all that is said to us is cruel and nasty. We need to learn to discern what is being said to us and not be afraid of negative feedback. In reality THIS is what makes us better. Comments about my attitude to men made me a better wife and woman. Comments about my teaching made me a better teacher. Comments about the way I spoke to my children made me a better parent. Comments about my book has made me write a much better one. I hated every single negative comment, (in fact some threatened to lead me into deep depression) but learning to take a step back, lay aside the negative emotions and really think about what was being said – has helped me learn new ways of doing things and new ways of being a better person for the sake of others on the receiving end of my relationships. (By the way, there is still a long way to go…we are ALL works in progress!)

Non Sibi Sed Aliis – not for myself but for others….

photo from office.microsoft.com/en-gb/images/

photo from office.microsoft.com/en-gb/images/

As a Christian there is a very important foundation we have for all of this. Jesus offered us life not based on our performance and measuring up to any standards. He fulfilled perfection for us and then died and was raised to life so that we could be given forgiveness and perfection as a gift. He sees believers who have accepted this life as already perfect…we am able to feel secure in his grace (undeserved gift) and then grow into who he is making us to be. Often that does come through discipline – we need to have it pointed out to us where we’re going wrong so we can agree with him (repentance) and let him help us put it right. The book of James in the Bible is really helpful (you can find it online here… http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1&version=NIV ) God disciplines us because he loves us.

I imagine a society that feels secure enough to take criticism and uses it to grow. This society would have community not individualism at it’s heart. I imagine leaders who are kind but truthful and support their workers to accept constructive criticism and learn from it and who model how to do this by being able to take, learn and grow from the criticisms given to them. I imagine less stress, people less defensive and humble enough to accept that they are not always right but that it is okay. I imagine a society where we fail, learn from it and don’t give up, blame others, attack others to take the focus off ourselves or run away. I imagine that divorce courts are quieter, families are stronger, children are better behaved, communities work together and going to work is more fulfilling. I imagine more courteous drivers even! I imagine a society where people are less stressed and smile at strangers, and maybe is a lot safer.

Difficult, yes…impossible, no. Here’s my prayer for you…

Dear Father,

May the persons reading this feel secure enough to understand that negative feedback can help us grow into better people. Thank you that we can know this security in your love for us and that knowing Jesus died for us can take away all the need we have to live up to others expectations for our innate value. Help us begin today to think before we react to criticism, find the truth in it and respond appropriately. If that means apologising and changing something we do, then let us have the grace to change and grow.

Thank you Lord

Amen

Enabling People with Learning Disabilities to be Active in Prayer

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As I have written before…I love praying and cannot see how any Christian can live without it. It is important, therefore that we give our Good News Group people every opportunity to actively engage in prayer.

As in any congregation, we have such a mix of people.

Which – of course – is great.

We cannot be sure how people have responded to the Gospel but we can demonstrate God’s love and acceptance through sharing our faith with them…and through they sharing their faith with us.

And so we want to give everyone the chance to pray. To communicate individually or corporately with the Lord God who made us and get to know him better.

One of the things we have tried recently is putting together PRAYER BAGS.

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We split into groups and each group has a bag of cards or pebbles with picture symbols on them.  There is a wide variety of subjects – personal, family and friends, community, church, countrywide, world wide. These came from the members themselves, things they have asked us to pray about. Things they talk about. There are also things that we have talked about to help them extend their thoughts outwards into God’s world.

In our groups we say very little. We have a card to remind us what prayer is and sometimes sing a song called ‘Prayer is like a telephone.’  (I will do a post about the songs we sing soon). Then we give everyone in the group the opportunity to choose a card and then place it on a ‘tree’ or in a ‘bowl’.  The person may speak their prayer or they may just put their picture in the bowl or on the tree. We are trying to encourage everyone, especially those who don’t use words, to take an ACTIVE role in prayer.

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So far everyone has been very positive about this activity.  Everyone can join in at the level they understand.  My greatest prayer is that the Lord hears each and every murmur and that they Holy Spirit will do what he promised…and intervene with groans that words cannot express.

We are looking forward to developing our prayer lives in other ways too. I have some ideas to try out next term and would love to hear any ideas from you too.

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