Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Losing My Religion: Should I Stay Or Should I Go

There's an old saying that you should NEVER discuss Sex, Politics or Religion in "polite" company, or a group of people you hold in high regard.  I guess I'm about to be impolite, as I am going to talk about the hot button of Religion.

Autism is bursting at the seams from schools, playgrounds, day cares, community centers...  So you would think the same happens in our churches, right?

Well...  Not exactly...

The truth is most families with a child struggling with autism don't make it to the front doors of the church...  or other things...  I know because I was there once myself.  It was just so much easier to seclude ourselves in our own little bubble and not have to deal with society's judginess.  Children with autism and their families are ostracized in our community wherever they go.  They're made to feel different (I suppose we are, but isn't everyone a little "different?"), less than, and unwelcome. Our kids struggle to make friends at school, get laughed at, are bullied and are made fun of.  That is our reality.

Going to Church can be difficult for families dealing with autism spectrum disorder or any other kind of special needs really.  Children with autism often struggle in new environments, and placed in a room full of strangers can be overwhelming for them.  I've talked to many families who have said "It's just too hard, so we don't bother going," or " we can't find a church willing to accept our child's differences, his/her inability to sit still or not make odd noises or gestures," or "My child won't sit through a service as he/she doesn't understand when to sit, stand, kneel, pray, etc. and I just don't have the energy to defend my child's behavior to people who as Christians should not be judgmental and so confrontational."

Who's to blame for this?  Is it the parents?  Ummm, no.  Is it the children?  Definitely NOT.  The fault lies completely with the church, and when I say church, I mean the church as a whole.  I don't care what denomination you are.  The mission of the church should be to bring people to Christ, to make each and every person with or without a disability, young or old, aware of their divine purpose in life.

Many families of children with special needs may be struggling financially because they have their children in therapy, treatment, counseling, tutoring, etc.  The parents are the full time caregivers, advocates, translators, speakers, and don't forget teachers with little to no help.  Tapped out of additional energy, these parents need a safe place that doesn't judge their parenting skills or their child's odd behavior, such as hand flapping, utterances, strange noises, stimming, etc.  These parents and children want and NEED to be accepted, loved and safe.  If there is a place where they all should find these needs met, it should be at their church.  Sadly, for many, this is not the case.

Losing one's religion or as I prefer to call it, faith, is a terrible injustice.  My faith keeps me strong for my children, and when I feel alone, sad and hurt, my faith keeps me inline and true to myself and my family.  Without my faith, I don't think I could have survived my personal trials and tribulations.  My faith is my life line, and without it, my hope for the future is gone.  I don't go to church because I am religious...  I actually hate religion.  To me, religion is man made rules, regulations, and ceremonies I don't feel will get me any closer to God.  Religion to me is humanity's way of reaching God through their own efforts, which is impossible.  Just think of the tower of Babylon.  They never did reach the heavens.  Faith on the other hand allows me my personal relationship with God who loves me, even with all my flaws and foolishness so much, He sacrificed His own son for my salvation.  I go to church because I want my children to know my God who is so full of love for them, He doesn't care about their autism, is not ashamed of it because He created them in His own image.  I want them to know He has a divine purpose for them in their lives and they are not alone.  I want them to be proud of themselves and not hide and be ashamed, because God is proud of them.  But how do I do that without a church to support me and my children?

I want a church where my children can sit with me during service and celebrate, without the judgement of others.  I don't want to have to explain why my daughter is humming instead of singing, or why sometimes I need to interpret words to others or explain what she is talking about.  I want my children to contribute in the service so they feel they are an integral part of their church.  I've been fortunate enough to find such a church, but to be honest, our family is the only one present with children on the autism spectrum.  The congregation loves my kids, and supports my family and encourage us in any way they can.  We have been blessed with a caring reverend who has all of my children involved in some way with the Sunday Service.  But I wonder where the rest of you families are?  And I'm not just talking families with autism, but families with young children.  I've met a few parents with young children (no diagnosis) who have chosen not to go to church because they feel their children are too young and would not last in Sunday School, nor would they sit still in the pews, disrupting service for the rest of the congregation.  How sad!  How are the kids supposed to learn if they're not exposed to the church?

Reverend Mark has made a decision, not just because of me, but because he sees our Autism Winnipeg PACE kids coming to Youth Group, but come Sunday they're not at church.  When he wondered why, I explained the above you've just read.  So he's made a decision.  He wants to have a special service for families with young children.  With or without disabilities.  He wants families with young children to come and have fun, not sit in pews bored out of their minds.  Without Sunday School.  This service is reserved for us clingy parents who want to celebrate our relationship with God with our kids.  The service would recognize that young people do not sit still and that they are as welcome as anyone else.  No organ, no real structure, contemporary music.  This service would last approximately 30-45 minutes or so, followed by fellowship time:  cookies and juice and maybe even a game.  If we were to hold this service on Friday evenings, we could have Youth Group right after the service!

As with anything new, Reverend Mark would need our help to start worshiping in this new and exciting way.  Here's how you can help:

- Commit to being there and engaging in the service.
- Hopefully we will start in July.  If we can start in June, so much the better.
- Share your ideas of what shape you would like to see the service take.
- Invite your friends, neighbors and family to come and be part of the service.
- Help with advertising (ex. posting on your facebook page)
- Invite musicians you know who may be willing to come and lead the music component of this Worship Service.
- If Friday evenings don't work, which evening would work best for you?

If you feel you've lost your religion, wondering if you should stay or should you go, I ask you to consider this new way of worship and come join us.  Email me for more information at or contact Reverend Mark Satterly at 204 979 0510.

Consider yourselves hugged,

Lou and family

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Why Come Out To Pace Kid Gymboree Night?

Our kids work hard all day trying to keep it together and blend in as much as they can at school and out in society where people are not always understanding, accepting and kind.  My kids truly are my heroes.  They get up every morning and face a society that tells them they are not good enough, smart enough, cool enough or fast enough to keep up with everyone else.  Our job is to let them know we love them, respect them and appreciate their efforts.

Autism Winnipeg PACE Kid Gymboree runs all year round with special focus on the holidays.  We know routine is extremely important to our kids, so when they decide to dedicate their Tuesday nights to us, we dedicate ourselves right back to them, especially during the holidays when the rest of their routine falls apart.  We work hard to make sure every Tuesday night is packed with opportunities to either learn something new or practice some social skills while making friends in a fun atmosphere, where they are accepted and not judged for their uniqueness.

I don't have a crystal ball to show you what we will do in the future, but I can show you what we've been doing since the unveiling of our first publication.  Some of our themes will be repeated, especially our summer vacations, Christmas vacations and our monthly celebration of birthdays and bowling nights.  The rest of the time we're learning together.

Summer time fun is my favorite. I love our back yard which has a (wait for it...) heated swimming pool (Mike and I don't play in cold water), two patios with lots of seating, and of course an enormous BBQ.  Summer time fun on Tuesday nights was held mostly in our back yard where the kids got to swim to their heart's content, enjoy some hot dogs and smores, while the parents got to relax on the patio, have their coffee and meet new friends.

Just come home from work and what do I see in my swimming pool?  Mike fishing!
Photo bomb!
Lots to do in our back yard

I had two favorite events we put together in August.  August 19th we had our (take a deep breath, it's a long one)  End Of Summer Pool Party, BBQ, Potluck, Smores, Bon Fire and Water Balloon Fight! My youngest daughter helped me make shish kebabs in the late evening and made a great effort to help me prepare some water balloons...  until I noticed she practically created a lake on my kitchen floor.  Mike and I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning making four huge rubber maid totes / food coolers filled with water balloons for the water balloon fight.  I had lost all feeling in my finger tips and called it a night.  But it was so worth it!  The kids had an awesome time beating us poor, old, clumsy and swag parents.  Mental note:  Dollar Store water balloons don't hurt as much as the ones from Chapters.

Miss Athena creating a lake where she stands

Getting ready to enhialiate the old
Labor Day weekend before school started up again was absolutely fantastic as we did one of my favorite things of all time...  WE WENT CAMPING!!!  Grand Beach Campground is stunning and we had the most amazing time with the kids and parents!  It even rained on us one day, but the kids still had a blast making their own lava lamps, glow in the dark bubbles, sparkler fun, glow in the dark stick fights, popping popcorn over fire and making their own fire roasted gourmet smores.  Three days and two nights of fun spent fishing, swimming, watching fire works, boat rides with our Captain Daniel Picton, and of course eating like kings and queens!  There was a coffee place the parents could sneak off to and get a latte when they started to miss Starbucks.  Yes, I am guilty.  Stop judging! While I love camping, I also love my coffee! The point I'm trying to make here is we rocked it!  None of the kids got the chance to be bored, and we brought the summer to an end with a bang!   And the parents?  Well, we got to be heros for going camping.  Mission accomplished.

Fishing time

Look what I caught!!! 
Captain Daniel Picton, at your service!

Science experiment time

Fire works

Making friends...  or not...  yes, definitely making friends!

Captain Daniel is also a sous chef!

I'm gonna be a scientist!!!

Carollynne puts her art degree to practice with face painting

Our evening entertainment

Our glow in the dark bubbles / night lights

One of Mike's favorite things to do is scare children and adults alike, so naturally, we just HAD to take advantage of Halloween.  One Tuesday night was dedicated to pumpkin carving and decorating gingerbread haunted houses, which of course we ate.  Working together with Reverend Mark of Kildonan United Church, Michael Nurse (PACE Marketing Executive) and Mike Wilwand (PACE Co-founder; our two Mikes) spend about five hours transforming the church sanctuary into a haunted house.  Complete with music dance floor, strobe lights and not to mention fog machines to really give us that haunted house feeling.  We even had a DJ.  Yes, of course it was Mike.  Who else has a library collection of scary music?  Oh, and we had dancing skeletons, jumping spiders which the kids were terrified to set off, ghosts hanging from walls, skeletons holding candy bowls, skeletons speaking to us and other skeletons screeching at us... Fun times!

Clark Kent
The mad hatter
The cutest couple EVER!  Michael Nurse and Noreen Luptak.
He scared me when I first walked in
Suzie Snowflake (Our Youth Group Leader) and her date

Mike and his best buddy
I wasn't kidding about the strobe lights.

Cakes by Arlene...  Yum!!!

You know what I love about bowling?  It teaches turn taking, playing as part of a team, math in keeping score, hand / eye coordination, gross motor skills, social skills and most important of all...  it is fun!  None of us would be able to compete professionally, and that's not the point of coming out to our bowling nights which Arlene Reid has dedicated herself to organizing once a month.  Team spirit is not something you can give a lesson on, it needs to be experienced.  Being part of a team is not something our kids fall into gracefully in society.  They're not the first to be picked in sports at school, so Arlene makes sure they get to shine once a month, bowling style.  And you know what? I've come a long way in bowling.  I used to have to have the bumpers up on our family's lane, but now I've progressed nicely into bowling in my own lane, without injuring those on lanes beside me. I'm so proud of me!!!  Thanks Arlene!!!

Once in a while we like to organize a board game night for the kids.  This one time, the kids voted to play Twister.  Well of course Mike had to take the game to a whole  new level.  He combined two Twister mats into one game...  The kids LOVED it!!!  They didn't want the night to end.  But I got tired and cranky because I can't twist like the young ones do.

Have you heard of the YMCA / Win Gardner Place on the corner of Mountain and McGregor?  They offer a $5.00 membership for the year!!!  Some of our Tuesday night Kid Gymboree take place here to run off some steam.  We do indoor rock climbing, skateboarding, play in the play structure and sometimes even play X-Box games.  I love it because I don't have to prepare crafts or worry about learning something new, the kids love it because they get to burn off steam, and the parents love it because they get to watch their kids have a good time while socializing with other parents.  It's a win-win-win (no pun intended).

December was a busy month.  The kids were out of school, so how do we entertain them?  By throwing events to remember, that's how!

It started with Breakfast with Santa.  Arlene Reid, our event coordinator extraordinaire planned, cooked, baked and fed an army of kids and parents with breakfast sausages, eggs and pancakes.  My contribution to the food preparation was mandarin oranges.  Yey me!  Not to worry though... Carollynne Picton and I kept busy enough with tattoos and face paint.  Since Carollynne has a degree in fine arts and I don't, I got to cheat with sticker cutouts and markers while Carollynne worked with paint to prove her master talents.  Mike was made to sweat it out in his Santa costume blind as a bat because wearing his glasses would have been a dead give away he wasn't the real santa. Poor guy... he got a little sick to his tummy not being able to see.

It doesn't matter how old you are, Santa is cool!
PACE's Event Coordinator, Arlene Reid, slaving away
Carollynne's art degree paying off
PACE Co-Founder Mike Wilwand as Santa, PACE Marketing Executive Michael Nurse is Santa's "little" helper.

I slaved over these all day ;)

Mike loves Christmas more than Halloween.  Lights are his thing just like yarn is mine, so is garland, and Christmas ornaments, and music...  He is also a total electronics geek.  So, put together electronics, music, lights and a creative mind that just won't stop.  What do you get?

The picture here just doesn't do it justice, and the Youtube video was over 20 minutes long.  All I can tell you is the man went crazy with 10,550 lights connected to a 32 channel light o rama controller, programmed to flash, blink and bedazzle folks to eleven different songs, one of them being "Let It Go" as my girls are completely obsessed with "Frozen."  We called it the Wilwand "PACE Family Light Show," and had a donation box outside with 100% of the moneys going to the Children's Wish Foundation.  While the lights were absolutely beautiful, and Mike spent weeks and countless hours to set up his 'piece de resistance,' it set off my vertigo to the point I believe I know what someone with seizures may feel.  My right eye still gets a wee bit of a twitch at the sound of "Let It Go."

Carollynne Picton, God bless her soul, decided she wanted to go on a sleigh ride.  "Sure," I said. "That sounds like a blast!"  So on December 27th, Carollynne, Judy, Noreen, Arlene and I had a production line at my kitchen table, cooking hot dogs, slapping them into buns, wrapping them and tossing them in a cooler Carollynne and Daniel brought over that has the option to keep food warm! A warm cooler, go figure.  Thank you Canadian Tire for being so innovative!  Could not have done this without you!!!  Judy Luptak got busy making hot chocolate in the restaurant while I enjoyed my very fist sleigh ride with the kids.  Each sleigh sat 25 people.  We filled three sleighs!!!  Terrific turnout! Fantastic event!  We were so very fortunate to have Anthony Mark Photography available to capture the fun times of this event!

The children decide to thank Mike with a little tackle time

Families living with autism don't really get to get out on New Year's Eve.  Neither do our kids, so last year our event coordinator decided to put together a New Year's Eve party for families connected with Autism Winnipeg PACE.  This year was our second year, and again, a huge hit just like last year.  So at the end of the night, Arlene and I get talking about birthdays as one of the moms announced her son's birthday fell on January 1st.  Awwwwwwww...  Arlene and I decide we will plan a birthday party every month for children to 1) have birthday parties where kids actually show up, and 2) be invited to an actual birthday party!  Yey!!!  We've done these in the past, but always held them on Tuesday night gymboree.  The parent would bring a cake unless they couldn't afford to. Even then, we made sure there was a cake for the child or at the very least a cup cake and a candle.  We would all sing "Happy Birthday" and watch the child blow out their candle.  This was always done at the end of our Kid Gymboree, so it wasn't really a party...  Having a party will be much better for our kids!

Arlene, our fearless leader, photo bombs us...
All I want for Christmas is my front two teeth...
My absolute favorite photo of the evening
We brought in the New Year together!
Happy Birthday Evan!!!

Winter is just too darn cold, even for a heated outdoor pool, so we decided to go out swimming in January.  We found a great pool with a reserved time between 5 and 8pm on Tuesday nights for people with disabilities.  How wonderful!!!  Thank you Beverly Mason for the awesome idea and doing the investigative work to ensure our kids had some splashing fun!  It was so much fun, we're going to dedicate one PACE Kid Gymboree a month to go swimming.  It is free to parents and children, you just need to bring change for the locker.  This means no matter what your child's age, there is no excuse.  You can now come out as swimming pools don't age discriminate!  Contact me for more information.

Mike bought himself a new pop up ice fishing hut last year.  The man loves fishing so much, he actually used to paint his very own jigs.  He owns ten ice fishing rods, and twenty other for spring, summer and fall fishing.  He never comes home empty handed, and he always out fishes anyone he goes with.  For example, we did a test run in January ice fishing with the kids with our marketing executive Michael Nurse and his son Phoenix.  Of course the kids and I tagged along too with crazy carpets just in case the kids got bored.  Mike caught 20 fish, Michael a few less, and the kids and I caught two each.  In our defense, we came a few hours after the two Mikes did and we had to test out the crazy carpets too.  Our test run was awesome, so we held a PACE Family Ice Fishing event on January 24th.

The month of February is the month of love...  We focused on St. Valentines Day and learned about the martyr and how he wed couples at a time when marriages were outlawed as a single man was a better soldier than a married one.  We learned about the different types of love and how love is not just a gooey feeling, but is a commitment made between friends, family, lovers and relatives. Michelle Barry who is new to PACE offered her time and crafting skills to teach us how to make amazing Valentines Day cards!!!  Arlene Reid offered her baking expertise in teaching the kids how to bake and decorate cookies, and I learned along with the kids how to give back to the community by making Valentines Day gifts for the elderly.

And finally, with the talents of Ryan Smoluk who created a beautiful painting and donated it to Autism Winnipeg PACE, and Noreen Luptak, PACE's Graphic Designer, I am thrilled to unveil the new and improved logo of Autism Winnipeg PACE:

Want more information about Autism Winnipeg PACE?  Contact us!

Co-Founder:  Mike Wilwand 204 795 5668
Co-Founder:  Lou Lovrin 204 771 4546

Consider yourselves hugged,

Lou, for Mike too :)