Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Forty Years A Gambler

If you’ve ever wondered what life with a gambling addiction looks like, wonder no more. In this easy-to-read book, Ian shares his incredible story of how what started as a seemingly harmless and fun pursuit turned into life-changing addiction, debt, crime and prison. Gambling was ruining his life and stealing his happiness and peace of mind.

But Ian’s life was turned completely around when he encountered Jesus. It’s thrilling to read how he has been set free from a gambling addiction and is helping others in similar circumstances.

Ian’s wife also shares her story of a downward spiral into significant debt through playing Bingo.

Playing Bingo and fruit machines may appear to be harmless, yet can lead to heartache, misery and financial debt.

This book throws light on some of the inner workings of the gambling industry….. An eye opener, though perhaps not that surprising.

In the last part of Forty Years A Gambler, there are helpful appendices from various organisations working with people with gambling problems, as well as the results of a gambling impact survey set up by Ian and endorsed by Birmingham University.

For anyone working with vulnerable people who may be suffering from this secret and little understood addiction, this book is a must-read.

 

Are you in a Service Station?

I’ve been pondering on how life and ministry can feel like driving on a motorway. Traffic is moving, things are good, you can be alongside the same vehicles for a few miles, then they move further on or you speed up and pass them, or one of you turns off. There can be an occasional hold-up, but you’re all in it together and that brings a sense of shared trouble and solidarity. You have purpose, you’re moving with intent, you have somewhere to go.

But after you’ve been on your journey a while, especially a long distance one, you need to pull over into a service station.

Service stations are places to be replenished, rested and refreshed. You leave the busyness of the motorway behind, it almost feels like a different world. When I first enter a service station, I feel dazed and not quite with it after focusing on driving (or dozing while Adi drives). My first port of call is usually the loo, then I head for coffee and food.

Service stations are temporary. They do what their name implies: they serve us so that we can get back on the road feeling strengthened, more alert, and ready for the next stage of our journey.

Service stations are necessary. Without them, journeys would be hard and unpleasant. Some of us would be crossing our legs and desperately hoping for the journey to end. We couldn’t take a break when we’re tired and that would be dangerous for ourselves and others.

In life, we all spend time in service stations occasionally.

There have been times in my life when God has brought me out of ministry and laid me aside for a period. When I was ill for a year, I lost my job and ministry and felt pretty useless. But God kept reminding me that He had a purpose in it, things do to that He had planned just for me, and that I wouldn’t be in the service station for ever.

When Jesus was on earth, He sometimes withdrew with His disciples from the crowds to have rest from ministry. Even He spent time in service stations, like immediately after He’d been baptised.

JeepWhen you’re in a service station, it can feel like you’ve been overlooked by leaders, that you’ve been forgotten or are useless, that you’ve had your day and now there’s nothing. It can be painful. Or you may feel drained and exhausted, as if you never want to get back on the road again ever.

But this season will not last for ever. It’s temporary. God has good plans for you; He has a purpose in all of this. He chose you to go on unique adventures with Him.

God would not take you into the service station without good reason. It’s necessary. Ask Him what He wants you to learn through this time. Let Him heal ministry wounds. Go deeper with Him. Enjoy Him. Rest and be refreshed.  He will take you back onto the road at the right time.

 

Memories of a Billboard

At the beginning of 2017, the church I attend Arnold Road Evangelical Church gave out a Bible verse for the year:

For God so loved the world that He gave
His only Son,
so that whoever believes in Him
will not perish but have everlasting life.
John 3:16

This verse reminded me of more than sixty years ago.

The words – in slightly different English to now – were pasted onto a billboard. Every time I walked along Radford Road on my way to school, there it was staring me in the face, and I read it.

To me, it was a link in the chain of events to me becoming a Christian.

I can still see it in my mind, reading it as I walked past.

It is one of my favourite verses because it reminds me that Jesus died for me because He loves me.

MumJanet Baker

 

Really, God?

Do you believe that your ability to write is a gift from God?

This belief has been a long process for me. I never really dared to believe it for myself until very recently.

I had a huge wobble about writing last spring. It was the latest in many wobbles over the years. This time, I determined to tackle it once and for all.

God, if You really want me to write then please let it bear fruit. And if I’ve got it all wrong, then lop the writing branch out of my life.

A hard prayer to pray, but I meant it. Even though I fully expected God to sigh with relief that I’d finally gotten the message and He could cut writing out of my life.

Within two weeks….[Read more]

Water-Walker

I want to walk on water in 2017.

No, I haven’t gone mad. This desire is based on the occasion when Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, climbed out of a boat in the middle of a storm and walked on water with Jesus.

There were twelve disciples altogether in the boat that night. But only one had the exhilarating and terrifying experience of walking on water. The other eleven missed out on the walk of their lives. I bet that walk was one Peter remembered for the rest of his life; the others didn’t have that.

I want to be like Peter.

He didn’t take risk for risk’s sake. He made sure this was what God wanted him to do: ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to you on the water.’ And Jesus immediately invited him to come.

Even then, it must have taken a lot of courage to climb out of that boat. Crazy enough if the water was calm, but these were big waves and a strong wind. But Peter heard Jesus’ call to adventure and stepped out of his comfort zone.

All went well at first. But then he suddenly realised what he was doing. Aaagghhh! I’m walking on water. And the waves are big. Woah, just look at that wind! Oh fiddlesticks, I’m sinking.

When Peter took his eyes off Jesus and looked at his circumstances, it began to go wrong. But as soon as he called out to the Lord for help, Jesus grasped him with His strong arms and lifted him back up so he could be a water-walker once again. Jesus didn’t berate Peter for failing, He lovingly showed him where he’d gone wrong.

toddlerWhat will walking on water look like for me? I’m not entirely sure right now though I have one or two ideas…. It will involve God’s call, stepping out of my comfort zone in obedience, of being in a position where I’m 100% reliant on God to do whatever it is He’s asking me to do. I’m certain it will involve failing too (maybe water-toddler is a better expression than water-walker, I’m bound to end up on my bum at some point!).

Every time I choose to walk on water, I will be more likely to climb out of the boat again. Every time I decide it’s safer in the boat, I lose out and become more likely to stay within my comfort zone next time. Walking on water means a deeper, more intimate relationship with Jesus – something I can only gain by getting out of the boat.

I want to climb out of the boat. I want to go on adventures with Jesus. I’m going to walk on water in 2017.

NaNoWriMo: What I Learned

What an exciting (but exhausting) adventure was NaNoWriMo last month! I had a fantastic time writing my 50,000 words in less than 30 days, and learned a lot during the process.

Getting to Know My Characters

There were surprises in getting to know my characters. This story (orphans Jay, Poppy, Robyn and Blu stand only a few inches high and live in a tree; when their home is threatened with demolition they become refugees overnight) was one I have carried in my head since I was a child.

In my head, Robyn was always my main character and very lovable.

On paper, Jay – in his quiet, unobtrusive way – took centre stage early on and stayed there. And I was okay with that, if surprised. Robyn turned out to be quite selfish and lazy though she had good qualities too.

In my head, Poppy was very much a bossy big sister, a bit stressed, rather controlling.

On paper, I found Poppy intriguing. Like Shrek, she has layers, and I enjoyed the process of her allowing me to peel them back and find the real person beneath. Actually, I think she was quite a lonely and misunderstood character, often taken for granted by her siblings. She also took me completely by surprise with her archery skills when a fox raided their camp late one night. I didn’t see that one coming!

getting-to-know-characters

Just Go With It

A big part of doing NaNoWriMo for me was having fun getting to know my characters and letting them take over the story. For the first few thousand words, I wrote and they did whatever I told them.

But what a thrill for me when they suddenly started to think for themselves and do what they wanted.

The showdown came when they were fleeing the destruction of their tree home. I wanted them to hike through the woods. They thought escaping down river was best. We argued on and off all night. They won. And I’m sure the story is the better for it. From that moment onward, I let them take charge and simply followed where they led.

Leave and Start Mid-Scene

More experienced writers recommend leaving mid-scene when finishing writing for the day so that you have something exciting to come back to. I found this very useful. Initially, I switched off my laptop at the end of a scene, but found it much harder to get going the next day.

When you leave mid-scene, it’s easier to get started and keep going because your imagination is quickly stimulated.

Writers’ Block

A writer-friend recommended giving your characters emergencies and issues to handle when you’re stuck for where to go next with the story. I did this a lot. My poor little fictional family! But it was fascinating to see what they did with the various problems I threw at them and how well they coped.

Thankfully, this prevented me from getting writers’ block and from feeling like the story was flopping in the middle of the month.

Writing Buddies

With all my fine resolutions, I may not have started NaNoWriMo if not for my writing-buddies who spurred me on. On Day One, I wrote nothing. It was pretty daunting being faced with a mountain of 50,000 words in a month. But my friends emailed to ask how the word count was going and encourage me to get started. On Day Two, I began to write.

Thank you Janey, Wendy, Fiona and Angela 🙂

 

You Are God’s Poem

I had one of those eureka moments in church the other Sunday.

The speaker said that in the original language Paul used when he wrote to the Ephesian church, we are God’s poem.

In our English translations it says we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which the Father has already prepared beforehand for us.

This passage in Ephesians 2 is one of my favourites. All about God’s grace towards me when I was dead to God and a rebel. How His gift to me was faith to believe in Him so that I can know how wonderful and kind His rich grace is. Wow. Some God!

I also love that He has stuff for me to do which He has planned specifically for me. Wow again!

But that I am His poem. That’s beautiful. Because that means I am His precious work of art. [Read more]

Ready, Set, Write!

Ever heard of NaNoWriMo?

It stands for National Novel Writing Month. That happens to be this month: November.

The idea is to write 50,000 words between 1st and 30th November. Lots of people all over the world take part and it sounds intense but fun.

I’ve wanted to join in for the last few years but have always been too busy. This year, however, I have a fairly free diary with no church commitments (for once)…. so I’ve registered and am at the start line.

It’s a wee bit nerve wracking, even scary, but also exciting.

I planned out my word count on the calendar. Gulp. That looks, erm, intense. I’m hoping to have one day off each week so am planning to write at least 1,925 words per day. That means 9,625 by this Saturday.

But NaNoWriMo is a writing adventure and I can’t wait to get stuck in.

I’m having a go at a young adult/children’s novel about some tiny creatures who live in a tree. They are an orphaned family called Jay, Poppy, Robin and Blu. And that’s all you’re getting for now! They have been living in my head, making their characters known for many years now, and it’s time for them to see the light of day. I have a storyline in mind but I hope my little family will go their own sweet way and surprise me with what they get up to.

If I have any spare energy, I’ll post again in a couple of weeks and let you know how I’m getting on/how frazzled I am!

 

Sheer Delight

Interacting with animals is one of life’s good gifts. (Warning: this is a post that only animal lovers will truly appreciate!)

My guinea pig Pickles used to love racing me up the stairs. I showed him how to do it, then initiated us racing side by side. Always me initiating.

Then one day, I felt pressure on my mid-calf. I turned and looked down. There was Pickles on his hind legs, nudging me with his front paws. When he saw he had my attention, he got into the start position at the bottom of the stairs. It was a proud and emotional moment as I took my place on all fours by his side, and then we galloped up together. I forget who won, it doesn’t matter, my little furry boy had come to me to play, and my heart was full.

These days, I look forward to having Truffles the rabbit to stay. He loves cuddles, especially having his head and face gently stroked and his nose kissed. When I stop, he butts me with his head, wanting more. It’s a delight when he responds by licking my nose, and then he sits back expectantly waiting for me to resume kissing and fussing over him.

Animals don’t have to respond. They could just put up with me fussing over them before trundling back to whatever truffles-and-methey were doing prior to me coming along. Sometimes they do just that. But when they respond with pleasure, or even initiate contact, that brings me joy.

I think it’s similar to the way we interact with God. He pursues all of us everyday with His goodness and mercy. But when we respond to Him, that delights His heart.

To be honest, I don’t always feel like praising God or spending time with Him. Sometimes work is busy, life feels pressured and stressed, and I’m tired. But I know that when I do come to Him, it delights and blesses His heart.

For me, this looks like walking or bouncing or dancing (depending how I feel) up and down the kitchen, singing and praying in tongues. I read the Bible with pleasure, as if He had written it just for me. That makes even the hard bits that I don’t understand precious, because my Friend wrote them.

Other times we go for a meander together through the woods or in the countryside. I even go running with Him.

The pleasure I have in playing with a rabbit or guinea pig is nothing in comparison to the sheer delight the Father has in me whenever I come into His presence.

A Bird, A Girl, and A Rescue

This book has so much that would appeal to eight to twelve year old readers. Set in the fictional African country of Rwendigo, the main character is young Kiisa who is off to boarding school for the first time. Her father leaves her with a special gift which becomes more important to Kiisa as the story goes on. Her growing relationship and dependence on her father’s gift is akin to knowing God and growing in faith.

This book is a mix of African legend with Christian undertones and modern-day guerrilla warfare. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. Yet even though touching on serious issues, the book remains light, focusing on friendship, loyalty, courage and standing up to bullies. Kiisa loves playing football and makes a great goalie.

Young readers will enjoy the fun and adventure aspects of the story. Older readers – and adults – will hopefully gain a little insight into the tension of living in a politically-corrupt area with the ever-present danger of guerrilla warfare.

I enjoyed reading A Bird, A Girl and A Rescue by J A Myhre. I have given it **** on Amazon and am grateful to Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free copy to review.

 

 

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