Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Blessed

This afternoon a dear friend came to visit. We haven’t seen each other for a year and it was good to catch-up. We ate chocolate biscuits, drank tea and chatted.

As I waved her goodbye, I pondered on the unexpected and pleasant feeling I had inside.

I felt loved.

She had listened to me without judging, trying to fix things or even offering to pray. She simply listened and loved me. As a result, I felt built-up and a tiny bit hopeful that there will be light at the end of this particular very dark tunnel I find myself in.

I have been blessed with some good friends.

First and foremost is Adi, my best friend and husband who supports me, prays with me, does funny things to make me laugh, takes me on late night walks when I’m too tense/angry/miserable/hopeless/hyperalert to find rest any other way, and loves me unconditionally.

There are a handful of other good friends too, people with whom I can be myself without fear of being judged.

Having a mental health condition is isolating and stops me doing ordinary things like going to church and socialising. It won’t always be like this (I hope) but for now, life feels limited because of the PTSD flashbacks, dissociation, and exhaustion that goes with those.

So when friends meet me in a ‘safe’ place for coffee/breakfast/dinner or visit me or text or email or ring, I am blessed. In that moment, hope and courage rise in me and I know there is going to be light at the end of the tunnel.

In that moment, I know I’m not alone and I feel loved.

Present

As soon as I saw today’s Lent word – present – this post came to mind.

Living with post traumatic stress (PTSD) and related mental health issues often means a fight to stay present. Small things can trigger a traumatic memory: a scent, an action, a word, even quietly sitting reading. With little warning I’m catapulted into the past and reliving something I’d rather not.

Sometimes it is simply that the present moment feels too much and my body gives off danger signals, causing me to disconnect from reality. This can happen several times a day.

With intensive therapy, I’m slowly learning to recognise triggers and avoid them if possible. My amazing therapist has taught me ways of distracting myself to stay present and in the moment. One of my favourites is a word game: I go through the alphabet naming girls’ or boys’ names. If Adi is around and I’m struggling to stay focused and present, we take it in turns to call out names, the quicker the better.

Scamper is my little faithful standby. Concentrating on his furry head and smooth paws can help me stay present. If all else fails, he is a very comforting bear to hang on to in the emotionally-drained-and-exhausted aftermath of multiple disconnections.

I took this photo of Scamper in the superhero cape I knitted for him at a recent visit to my therapist.

 

Weighed

Today’s Lent word, weighed, reminded me of a cold night when I was volunteering with a Christian charity working with women in the sex industry. I was on the outreach van, driving round the red light district looking out for working women in need of food and a safe place to rest and chat for a few minutes.

It was late when we spotted one of our regulars on her way out to work. She was limping along, painfully and slowly, clutching the arm of her ‘boyfriend’. The van pulled alongside and my team-mate and I jumped out.

‘Hi Molly*, would you like a hot chocolate?’

With her boyfriend’s permission, Molly climbed onto the van. She wrapped her hands around the beaker of hot chocolate and slipped the cheese sandwich and crisps into her bag for later.

‘How’s your leg?’ We looked at her with concern.

‘It really hurts.’

We could see Molly was in a lot of pain. All we could do was urge her to see a doctor and offer to accompany her if that would help.

Her boyfriend was hovering outside the van. She needed to start work. So we held hands and quickly prayed with her.

The step down from the van was high and Molly hesitated, trying to figure out how to get down without jarring her painful leg. My team-mate and I glanced at one another and I nodded. I jumped down onto the pavement and held up my hands.

‘Come on Molly, I’ll lift you down.’

She weighed nothing. I’d worried that I might drop her or hurt her bad leg. But she felt weightless in my arms. I’m not sure to this day whether God gave me supernatural strength to lift this precious child He loved or whether she was so skinny as to be almost weightless. Either way, Molly was safely off the van.

But I had tears in my eyes having to watch her limp away with her boyfriend. On the corner, a client was already waiting.

 

 

* Name changed to protect identity

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Test

I love reading and hearing stories of people who’ve been through extraordinary experiences. Two of my ‘go to’ books when I’m feeling low are Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place and Joni by Joni Eareckson Tada.

Corrie’s account of hiding Jews during WWII and consequently surviving Ravensbruck puts strength and heart in me, and reminds me of how to look at my own circumstances through an eternal lens. Joni’s story of learning how to live life abundantly again after a diving accident left her paralysed from the neck down also encourages me in the midst of difficulties.

Life for me over the past sixteen months has been testing and trying me to my limit (and beyond, it feels like sometimes). Struggling to come to terms with past events and mental illness, I am often overwhelmed, grieving and angry. Anger and grief beyond anything I’ve ever before experienced.

I have been reminded in the last few days that suffering is an expected part of life. We live in an imperfect world where people are selfish and do evil things. Suffering is the consequence. I don’t want my suffering to be for nothing. I am desperate for it to mean something, for there to be a purpose to it. To suffer for nothing leads me to despair.

Through testimonies like Corrie’s and Joni’s, I am reminded that with God suffering isn’t for nothing. My Father in heaven can somehow turn my past and present suffering to something good and beautiful. I am yet to see the fruit of this, but I am choosing to believe it will happen. This is God’s way: first comes suffering, then glory. Even Jesus had to suffer before the glory and reward.

Smith Wigglesworth puts it like this:

Great faith is the product of great fights.
Great testimonies are the outcome of great tests.
Great triumphs can only come out of great trials.

 

Given

It’s that time of year again and I am taking part in Rethink Church’s Lent word-a-day challenge. Sometimes it will be a photo on Scamper’s Adventures blog and other days, like now, I will write a short blog post.

Today’s word is GIVEN.

I am broken,
but You give wholeness.
My life is ashes,
for which You give beauty.
My heart is heavy and I am in mourning,
You give me a garment of praise and oil of joy.
You give me comfort.
You give me peace.

When I am afraid and overwhelmed,
You are my strong tower where I hide.

Father, You have given me everything I need.
You have given Your Very Best.
Your own Son,
betrayed, abused, tortured, shamed, killed.
For me.

Because of Jesus given at the cross,
I can be forgiven,
I can be free,
I can live abundant life,
I know You.
You are my Father, Friend, Saviour, Lord, Comforter, Prince of Peace, Strong Tower, Place of Refuge.

Love Beyond

I enjoyed reading Love Beyond by Heidi Baumgartner, of how God has used her to bring His love to the women working in Soho’s red light district for the past thirty-odd years.

Heidi opens the book with her childhood, early adulthood and how she came to know Jesus for herself and His subsequent call for her to minister to sex workers. She tells it as it is, which I like: the difficulties, enjoyment, ups, downs and everything in between. You have to be in this type of work for the long haul as there are no quick fixes. Lots of prayer, commitment to visit the same venues regularly regardless of whether there is a welcome at the door, praising in the darkness, always asking God for His Kingdom to come in this place among these people.

She writes: ‘I think it’s the most amazing thing to be able to worship Jesus in the midst of a dark place, knowing that God inhabits the praises of His people and that praising Him changes the spiritual atmosphere.’

And: ‘One day while I was in Soho, I began my prayer time by singing to the Lord. The moment I started to praise Him, Jesus gave me a brief glimpse into the spiritual realm and I saw strange-looking creatures running away. With their hands they were covering their ears, saying, “Oh no, she is singing again!”‘

In the book are stories to celebrate, of women leaving the sex trade and some committing their lives to following Jesus. Heidi also shows the other side of such work, of faithfully ministering and offering friendship and support over many years without ever seeing any real change.

She is also very real and writes of how God does not hesitate to show up in the most unlikely places:

‘We all felt His wonderful presence and once more I was deeply touched by His amazing grace. Jesus really cares about people and nothing escapes Him. He heard the prayers of four people, praying in a tiny kitchen on the first floor of a brothel in Soho, and decided to visit us by His Holy Spirit.’

Having volunteered in this type of work myself elsewhere in the UK, I know firsthand how discouraging it can be and how oppressive it feels at times. It is also highly rewarding and I loved meeting with women working on the street as well as those working in massage parlours. What astounded me about Heidi was her level of commitment to the women: for years she actually lived in Soho within easy walking distance of the women to whom she ministered. I particularly loved that the women weren’t a ‘project’ to her but she showed them real, authentic friendship. They often had meals together and the women knew how much Heidi loved them. I think the fact she has not burnt out reveals her passionate heart for God because only He could sustain a ministry like this.

It’s a great book and I highly recommend it. I’ll leave you with two more quotes:

‘…after visiting the flats in Soho for thirty years I still don’t believe that a woman wakes up one morning and says to herself that she’s going to earn her living by working as a prostitute.’

‘Jesus responded that I should never stop asking for His Kingdom to come, regardless of the people or the situation.’

 

Instant Apostle provided me with a free Kindle copy for the purpose of writing an unbiased review.

 

 

One of Those Moments

I’ve just had one of those moments.

Christmas. Emmanuel. God with us.

God with us.

That means something.

This is not all there is. (Thank God.)

This year has been the toughest I’ve ever known personally.

It has been twelve months of struggling with mental health issues, significant loss and deep grief.

Brexit, Trump, politics, the world generally going bonkers and no way to get off.

It feels so overwhelming as to render me completely numb.

I’m so fragmented nothing feels real. Not always even sure on the surface that God is there, but occasionally catch glimpses of His handiwork and know that He must be here…. somewhere.

Let this truth sink in: God with us. Jesus chose to come to this crazy, sick, evil, twisted, despairing world. God with us. He came to bring peace. His peace reigning in our hearts regardless of what is going on around or within us. Peace with God.

Because He came that first Christmas, I have a Safe Place to run to and hide. Jesus is my Strong Tower where I and every part of me is safe and loved and known and wanted and comforted.

 

Lucy Butterfly: Ella In Between

I enjoyed reading the Lucy Butterfly series by Heather Cursham, which are intriguing fantasy adventure stories. They reminded me of CS Lewis’ Narnia series.

Lucy Butterfly and her young sister Ella are girls with a love of adventure. The randomly find themselves in a magical kingdom after falling asleep, where they are heroines on a quest. They make key friends in the kingdom as well as meeting talking animals. In the process, they learn more about themselves; maybe that is the point of them visiting the kingdom.

A Dream Tale is the first in the series in which Lucy falls asleep to find herself on a quest to break the curse of the kingdom.

Lucy Ever After sees both Lucy and little sister Ella on a joint mission to set the now struggling kingdom free from darkness.

In this third book Ella In Between, Lucy is away on a gap year in sub-Saharan Africa where she is putting into practice all the things she learned in the kingdom. Ella finds herself in the kingdom once again, not so much to help her friends there but to learn vital life lessons for herself through an exciting treasure hunt.

Like the Narnia series, there are Christian threads if you have eyes to see it, though these books could be read and thoroughly enjoyed by all.

Heather Cursham has a well-paced, easy-to-read writing style and there was enough ‘grip’ to keep me turning the pages to see what would happen next.

It is a YA series I will happily recommend to friends with children.  I give it 4* on Amazon.

 

Rush

When I’m surrounded by rush and stress,
Do this, go there, see to that, don’t forget….
My heart thumps, breathing gets shallow,
head in a spin.
Draw a deep breath.
Go outside, look at the sky:
Clouds ever changing in patterns across the blue,
Never in a tearing rush,
Always moving to an inaudible symphony
of the Creator.
Five minutes to shift my focus from things.
I pick up my yellow bottle and blow bubbles.
Childish maybe? I don’t care.
Bubbles are fun.
They bounce high in translucent colours of faint purples and golds.
Only those who take time to look
see the beauty of these simple things.
In the stillness, I hear an invitation to come.
Come and be with the One who is never in a rush
except when I’m hurting and He races to wrap me in His arms.
He brings comfort and peace and quiet joy.
Stillness in the rush of life.

Scamper Says ‘Hello!’

Apologies for having gone a bit quiet on here lately. There’s a lot going on personally and I haven’t felt up to blogging. But my childhood-teddy-friend Scamper has started his own blog and you can read his first post here.

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