Happy New Year!

As one year draws to a close and another begins it gives a chance to look back and reflect on 2018 and look forward to 2019.  And what a year 2018 was!  With the airing of the My Life programme in February and the publication of my book and launching of my charity in July, three big projects I had been working on came to fruition.  Each of those projects are opening new avenues and creating new opportunities as I look forward to 2019 with enthusiasm and anticipation.

The first excitement is my Book Blog Tour, which starts on Monday.  Join me and my book as we are reviewed by different bloggers every day next week.  Each blogger will also feature two questions and answers which I have written on themes covered in my book.  Do head over to the blogs to read the reviews and see what I have shared.

Lambeth Palace – Guest Carol Service

Last night I was privileged to attend the Lambeth Palace Guest Carol Service, which was a beautiful reflective Christmas celebration.  Archbishop Justin asked me to share a thought for the occasion, which my sister, Susannah, read delightfully; I was so proud of her.

Here is the piece I wrote which she read:

‘Stories have always been a large part of my life; stories I have grown up listening to, stories my imagination has inhabited, and latterly stories I have written. This year I have had the privilege of sharing my story with a wider audience, and in turn have been rewarded with hearing the stories others have shared with me.

When we share our stories, we give an insight not just to the polished outside appearance, but also a sense of the struggles and difficulties on the way.  Through them we can learn from each other, what binds our common humanity and the differences that make us all unique.

Christmas gives us a chance to look back over the year, and as I look back over my extra-ordinary year, it is not so much the big events that I look back and cherish, but the people who have shared some of their story with me. People like Anne, who wrote to me and said that although she had been very involved in church, she had lost her faith 17 years ago when her father died.  After reading my description of the Garden, Anne realised that God is there, helping and guiding her every day.  She ended her letter ‘thank you for sharing your faith and restoring mine’.  It is humbling that God uses our stories in this way.

Then there was Mya who is non-verbal and, like me a few years ago, labelled with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties.  Mya communicates with a blink for yes and a stare for no.  As Mya’s mother read my story to her, she would sigh at the common misperceptions we both experience.  When her mother had finished she asked Mya if she would like to learn to read and write.  Her affirming blinks were rapid and enthusiastic. Now, Mya has started a literacy journey of her own.  Recently she spelled out ‘I can’.

And at Christmas time we celebrate the greatest story of all.  God the author also became God the character as Jesus came to join our story.  He entered the mess and complication, participating in our common humanity and demonstrating a radically different way to live – God’s loving way.

But the story didn’t end 2000 years ago, and it doesn’t end every year when the decorations come down.  When we invite Jesus to share our story, our lives become woven with the greatest story of all.’

 

 

Rising Star Award – runner up

On Tuesday evening I was honoured to attend the DSC’s Social Change Awards at the House of Lords.  In a marquee on the terrace overlooking the Christmas lights on the banks of the Thames, we talked, met and exchanged ideas about running charities.  Meeting and chatting with Beth Rowland, the winner of the Rising Star Award, was one of the highlights of the evening – a very deserving winner and beautiful person.

Below is a picture of my runner up prize: a wonderful cartoon by Grizelda, cartoonist at Private Eye.

DSC prize

 

 

 

Out and About

Meeting people is so much fun, it is one of the things I enjoy the most; and over the next few days I have a few opportunities to chat with people.

Tomorrow I am visiting a couple bookshops in Bath: Toppings at 10:45 and Mr B’s Emporium at 11:30.  If you see me in Bath please do say hello.

On Saturday evening we are very honoured that Sherston Community Choir are giving some of the proceeds from their Christmas concert to Teach Us Too.  Do come along and support them if you can; I will be there and will bring some books with me to sell and sign.  Christmas sorted: music and present shopping in one!

Rising Star Award Nomination

Earlier this week I was astonished and honoured to find out that my work for Teach Us Too has been shortlisted for the Rising Star Award from the Directory of Social Change.  The Rising Star award is for young people who have had a major impact in their organisation / community by achieving positive change themselves or by engaging others to bring about concrete results.

Having Teach Us Too acknowledged in this way as a recognition of what we are striving to achieve is an amazing endorsement.   Please read the amazing stories of the other people shortlisted for this award and vote for one of us here

DSC

Remembrance Day War Horse

What an incredibly moving and highly charged performance of War Horse yesterday in London. What a way to commemorate 100 years after the armistice. As the bells tolled and the poppies fell on the cast, we stood to remember all that the play stood for; the horror, terror and waste; but also our common humanity and hope in the face of adversity.

Image from War Horse Facebook page

In This Light

Before this year I hadn’t been to a book launch – now I’ve  been to two in three months! On Thursday I was honoured to attend the launch of In This Light, a book compiled of thoughts for Christmas by the archbishop of Canterbury and 49 other contributors (including a small piece from me).

Reading my copy of the book has been inspiring – stories and messages of kindness, hope and peace abound within its pages from a diverse spectrum of people ranging from celebrities to a man acquitted from death row.

It is indicative of the kind of person Archbishop Justin is, that in a room of household names, he chose the unknown non-verbal 12 year old to say something.  Indicative of the principles of the baby born that first Christmas that the weak are elevated, those on the margins of society given a voice, those excluded enabled to contribute.

Along with Eye Can Write, this book would make a perfect Christmas gift.

Here is a prayer I wrote for the launch:

Father,

Thank you for bringing us together, as we celebrate the publication of this empowering book. May it help spread the love that you instil within us all, through the beautiful messages of hope, peace and your great unfathomable love demonstrated in sending Jesus.  Within these pages we are also made aware of those in need: the lonely, those caught up in conflict and the broken-hearted.  Draw near to them Lord so that your light may penetrate their lives this Christmas.

In Jesus name we pray,

Amen

 

 

Bishop Viv’s Enthronement

When I received the invitation to Bishop Viv’s enthronement, I was surprised and honoured she wanted me there. So I went along assuming I was filling the last few places at the back. Instead, on arrival at the Cathedral we were escorted further and further down the building until we reached the second row… and no it wasn’t a mistake:enthronement

What a demonstration of God’s topsy-turvy kingdom values that two non-verbal people are sat alongside local dignitaries and in the row in front of Bishops’ wives; that scattered throughout the service are the voices of children reading parts of the liturgy; that one of the songs had the refrain ‘all are welcome’.

So as Bishop Viv starts her ministry among us we pray for her and look forward to building a church where all are accepted, all are accepted and all are welcome.

bishop viv enthronement[photo ©Barbara Evripidou/FirstAvenuePhotography.com]

 

Opening the Christian Resources Exhibition

Yesterday, I was honoured to open the Christian Resources Exhibition, speaking alongside Sally Phillips expounding the churches for all message that true inclusion goes beyond accessibility to valuing everyone’s contribution to the body of Christ.

While I was at the exhibition I was able to meet lots of interesting people, sign my books with my stamp and be interviewed for local radio.

Here is a copy of my speech:

Throughout my life I have known Jesus with me, cradling me in pain, sheltering me from darkness and beckoning me forward. In my autobiography, Eye Can Write, I took the opportunity to tell of my faith in Jesus and my brief visit to Jesus’ garden, but not so much of the part church plays in my life.  With a secular publisher every mention of Jesus was argued, justified and fought over. But a personal faith is nurtured, fed and supported by the church; Christ uses His church as His expression of God’s kingdom on earth.

Therefore, it is wonderful that this year’s CRE has a focus on churches for all, because Jesus is for all. Jesus chooses the weak over the strong, chooses the poor over the rich, chooses the humble over the proud. God’s heart is for those on the margins of society, and his church needs to reflect this. Of course part of this is addressed in making our buildings accessible – wheelchair ramps so we can get in, hearing loops so we can hear, accessible content so we can follow the service. But true inclusion goes deeper than accessibility, true inclusion enables us to contribute as well as receive, true inclusion values us as part of the body of Christ.  And we each have a part to play in making God’s kingdom a reality here on earth.

Out of a desire for everyone to contribute, everyone’s voice to be heard I have started my charity Teach Us Too.  If everyone is going to be able to contribute, then it is important that everyone is given the same opportunities for a literacy education.  Did you know that non-verbal children like me are usually not taught to read and write in special school?  Teach Us Too aims to change this through challenging attitudes and assumptions based on labels, influencing educational practice, encouraging ambition and sharing expertise.  My proceeds from my book, Eye Can Write are going to Teach Us Too.  When non–verbal children are taught to read and write it unlocks their voice, enabling them to say exactly what they want to.  We stop being seen as mere recipients and start being valued as members of society.

Jesus gives us life in all its fullness.  As churches we have the chance to model a society where all are accepted, all are valued, all are enabled to contribute.

Christian resources exhibition

AAC Awareness Month

Communication is something most of you probably take for granted. So this month I have a challenge for you: can you choose an hour of family time to communicate in any way except spoken speech? If you want to make it a bit trickier, can you do this without using pen and paper?

For me, and hundreds like me, this is my reality.  This is AAC – Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

If you try my challenge in public, I can guarantee that people will view you differently.  If you are a child most people will assume you only have the understanding of a toddler, if you are an adult I expect most people avoid talking to you at all.

This month I am continuing to try to break down the assumptions that yoke non-verbal children.  Yesterday, I spoke to 300 trainee teachers at the University of the West of England, co-presenting with Sarah for Teach Us Too.  My prayer is that my book and Teach Us Too will make a difference so that all children are taught to read and write regardless of their label.

As you will have discovered if you did my challenge, literacy is the key to being able to say exactly what you want.  For non-verbal children literacy is the key to unlocking our voice.

In the comments below let me know how you got on with my challenge.

UWE October 2018 2