Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Month: March 2012

Afraid Of Failing

When did I first become afraid of being unable to have children? 

In my early twenties, with no boyfriend on the horizon I had a very real fear of being ‘left on the shelf’.  I was all too aware of my body clock ticking away, and hated it when well meaning people assured me that I was still young, that there was plenty of time and ‘you never know what’s around the corner’.  To me, there wasn’t plenty of time and the years stretched ahead of me looking depressingly empty of companionship and a family of my own.  I mean, I had to meet that special someone, start going out with him, wait for him to ask me to marry him, and get married.  That all took time.  In my head I would try to chivvy God along a bit (just in case He hadn’t realised that I was running out of time):  ‘Okay Lord, if I meet someone by the end of this year then I should be married in, let’s say two years, and then all the books say you should be married for a year or two before trying for a baby.  Lord, that means I can’t have children for four more years!’  It was all very dismal at times.

But then Adrian came into my life; we enjoyed a whirlwind romance and were married within eighteen months of meeting each other.  I’d heard horror stories from friends who were already married about relatives and friends who, with the wedding safely out of the way, start dropping not-such-subtle hints about starting a family.  Thankfully, we didn’t experience that.  Instead I was gripped with the fear of failing to ‘catch’ for a baby.  There seemed something shameful in wanting something that I might not be able to have.  Other people seemed able to produce babies with relative ease, but what if I couldn’t?  Faulty defence mechanisms kicked in:  if people thought I wasn’t bothered about having children, then no one would think I was a failure if it didn’t work out. 

So from the early days of our marriage, I began dropping casual comments into conversations:  ‘I’m not really into little kids, I never have been,’ or ‘I’m rubbish with holding babies, I prefer dogs and rabbits any day’.  This irrational behaviour wasn’t based on fact, merely on fear.  On one memorable Saturday evening, I was holding forth to my brother and sister-in-law somewhat vocally about how I couldn’t stand children and couldn’t imagine having any of my own (all lies).  There was a silence while their eyes met.  And then my brother turned to me, cleared his throat and said:  ‘We wondered if you would agree to becoming the legal guardian of our children if anything happened to us.’  Classic.

I still don’t know why I felt it was so shameful to be unable to have children.  But the fear and shame persisted for the next twelve years, and became a stronghold in my life that had to be demolished.  But more on that in another post.

Roll The Die For Quads….

When I was fourteen or fifteen, I had endless conversations with my best friend at school about the kind of man we wanted to marry.  Naturally, he had to have a fantastic body and be incredibly rich.  Until this wonderful man materialised, we contented ourselves with the usual school-girl crushes. 

One of our favourite occupations was to play The Game of Life… with a twist.  Instead of playing the usual way of finding out whether we would be rich or poor, what job we would do, and whether we would end up in a mansion or a poky house, we preferred to write our own rules, and concentrated on acquiring as many children as we possibly could.  Depending on which squares we landed on we could end up with one child, twins, triplets or quads. I think we even had a square for octuplets!   We had to spin the wheel in the middle of the board to find out if they were boys or girls (yellow, orange and red was for girls, while blue, purple and green was for boys).  We also had to name all of these children, and we wrote the names down so that we couldn’t get mixed up.  They didn’t just get a first name, but second names too.  (My first ‘daughter’ was always Kylie Frederica!)  It was great fun and once we had run out of our favourite names we scoured her teen magazines for obscure and outlandish ones.  One afternoon I managed to acquire 102 children!

We often discussed what we would do if we fell in love but then found out the man we were planning to marry couldn’t give us children (it never entered our heads to wonder if we might be infertile).  It was a tough question.  Do you ditch the man you love in order to find someone else and have children?  Or do you stick with love but head for a lifetime of childlessness?  In our young hearts, a lifetime of childlessness looked terrible, absolutely the worst thing that could happen to you. 

I’m glad to say that now we’re both approaching middle age (ssshhhh, don’t tell anyone!), we’re both happily married to good men we love with all our hearts.  And my friend has been blessed with two lovely children.  As for me, you know that Adrian and I are infertile.  And I’ve decided that now is the time to take the bull by horns, as it were, and address this on my blog.  So many people, singles as well as couples, suffer from childlessness and in the forthcoming posts I want to look at how it can feel, how to learn to live with it, and whether there is healing for the emptiness inside.

From The Resurrection To His Return

From the Resurrection to His Return by Dr Don A Carson is a short book which is full of  practical, sound advice.  It has only five chapters which are centred around the last half of the apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy.  Each chapter leads into the next in a logical way.  I think this is an ideal book for people who don’t particularly enjoy reading because it is so concise; its very shortness makes it accessible.

Dr Carson looks at the fact that in these last days we live in difficult times, with evil people becoming more evil.  Therefore, he exhorts us to choose godly mentors who we can look up to and imitate, as we see them following Jesus Christ.  Some of you, like me, may feel woefully inadeqate to say to a younger Christian:  ‘Do you want to know what Christianity is like?  Watch me.’  Yet Dr Carson insists that it is unbiblical not to do this.  The apostle Paul had sussed that many things are learned as much by example as they are by word, and Dr Carson agrees with him.  He then backs this up by telling a powerful true story (you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is – but it’s both challenging and heart-warming).

In the third chapter, Dr Carson warns Christians not to be naive with regard to evil.  He writes:  ‘Christians should never, ever be surprised by evil.  While we should always be horrified by evil, we should never be surprised by it.  Do not adopt a Pollyannaish view of things.  Do not be surprised by evil.  Hold few illusions about the world.  There are many times we should be horrified – surprised, never.’

In the last two chapters, Dr Carson exhorts us to hold onto the Bible and to pass it on to others.  It’s not a magic book, as in ‘a verse a day keeps the devil away’ but it’s a book that points us to Jesus.  The Jesus who saves and transforms lives, and who by His death and resurrection offers us a relationship with God.  The Bible makes us ‘wise to salvation’ – it shows us Jesus and His Father and how much they love us.  It tells us of the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit, who they are very happy to pour out on anyone who asks for Him.

Finally, Dr Carson encourages us to share Bible truths with others.  In doing so, we become part of a long relay race stretching back to Jesus and the first apostles, and looking ahead to the next generation.

From the Resurrection to His Return is a valuable book because it warns us from the Scriptures of the pitfalls of living in the last days, and shows us practically how to live aright in our time.

I am grateful to Christian Focus Publications for providing me with a complimentary Kindle version of this book for the purposes of writing a review.  I can highly recommend it.

What’s Moses Up To These Days?

At choir practice this week, it dawned on me how much I love singing and harmonising (which sometimes sounds great and other times doesn’t) with friends.  We’re currently practicing How deep the Father’s love by Stuart Townend for our Easter services at Grace Church.  The words of the song lead naturally to thinking about Heaven and all that Jesus purchased for us by dying and rising again.

It reminded me of what I’ve been reading about Moses in the Bible.  At certain times, the Holy Spirit inspired him to write songs for the Israelite nation to sing.  The first time this occurred was after God supernaturally parted the waters of the Red Sea so that the Israelites could travel through safely, but their pursuing enemies who had oppressed them for more than 400 years were drowned.  Moses and the people broke into spontaneous song, praising God for the wonderful way He had worked on their behalf.  It was a time of great rejoicing, and Moses’ sister Miriam led all the women in singing and dancing with tambourines.

Shortly before the Israelites were about to move into the promised land of Canaan, Moses was inspired with a song to teach the people so that they would remember God’s covenant with them.  (God also said that the song would be a witness against the people when they disobeyed Him.)

Just before his death, Moses bestowed a poetic blessing on the nation of Israel. 

From the fact that we have three recorded songs from during Moses’ lifetime, I think we can safely assume that he was gifted in this area and enjoyed singing and song-writing.  So I wonder what he’s up to these days…?  I think that maybe the Bible gives us a little insight into at least one of the things that Moses is doing now.

When the apostle John saw Heaven, he witnessed a number of people with harps in their hands, singing (present tense) the song of Moses and the Lamb.  This song is recorded nowhere else in Scripture, and the fact that it is introduced as the song of Moses and the Lamb seems to indicate that Jesus and Moses wrote it together at some point after Moses arrived in Heaven. 

Taking this into account along with Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels about Heaven, and the apostles’ teachings in their New Testament letters, I wonder if the God-given gifts and talents we enjoy using here will be transferred to Heaven and be used in a greater, more wonderful way that we can currently imagine?  I find it exciting to think that Jesus worked with Moses on that song.  It certainly dispels the boring myth of people sitting around on clouds.  No, we’re going to be thoroughly enjoying ourselves with Jesus for all of eternity!  And I for one can’t wait.

The Heavenly Man

The Heavenly Man is the inspirational and dramatic true story of Brother Yun.  Since his conversion to Christ in his mid-teens, he has been no stranger to a life on the run from the authorities, arrests and imprisonments.  Brother Yun writes a compellingly honest and humble account of Jesus’ dealings with him.  Many of the chapters read like the book of Acts; each story has been verified as true.  Interspersed through the book are short contributions from Yun’s wife Deling and various Chinese house church leaders, which give fresh insights from different points of view.

Early in his Christian life, Yun learned that God’s Word is powerful, and when it is shared from a burning heart, many people will be touched.  Yun’s devotion to the Lord stands out.  His periods in prison were times of coming closer to the Lord and enjoying Him in a deeper, more real way than ever before.  In the most horrible of stinking, overcrowded prison cells, Yun experienced rich fellowship with Jesus.  He writes:  ‘Don’t pray for the persecution to stop!  We shouldn’t pray for a lighter load to carry, but a stronger back to endure!  Then the world will see that God is with us, empowering us to live in a way that reflects his love and power.  This is true freedom.’

Yun was a radical for his time.  He urged house church leaders not to neglect their wives and children for the sake of doing ministry.  When he started a missionary training school, each candidate was taught 1) how to suffer and die for the Lord, 2) how to witness for the Lord, and 3) how to escape from prison for the Lord.  This was the real deal!

Through Brother Yun’s testimony, I have learned better how to pray for persecuted Christians in other parts of the world.  To pray for strength and grace to endure, and to be salt and light in their prison cells.  To pray for provision and strength for the prisoners’ families, who are often left completely destitute and penniless when the main breadwinner is taken away.  Also, to remember the strong bond that develops between Christians in prison – something that is precious and unique in a cell, and emotionally traumatic when broken by a Christian being released.

Although it is graphic in places, this book shines with Yun’s deep love for Jesus, and it’s hard to put down.  You have to keep turning the pages because you must find out what happens next.  Miracles, hardship, supernatural prison breaks, ups and downs of ministry – this book has it all.  I highly recommend it to you.

‘One More Miracle, Don’t Be Dead’

Adrian and I watched The Reichenbach Fall, the last episode in the current series of Sherlock, at the weekend.  Sherlock Holmes is an amazing, almost superhuman, character who makes you believe he can do the impossible.

I was struck by John Watson’s words as he stood alone at Sherlock’s grave:  ‘One more miracle, don’t be dead.’  To his best friend, it was inconceivable that Sherlock wouldn’t bounce back from death, airing his keen-eyed observations and generally showing off.

If you’ve ever watched the coffin of someone you love disappear behind a curtain at the crematorium or stood by a graveside, you will identify with what John was feeling.  It’s a natural reaction; death is so final, and it feels all wrong.

Certainly the disciples could have echoed John Watson’s words:  ‘Oh Jesus, one more miracle, don’t be dead.’  They had seen Jesus do lots and lots of miracles – blind people seeing, paralysed people walking, epileptics healed, and even people rising from the dead.  Surely in their hearts they were crying out, ‘Just one more miracle, don’t be dead.’  And yet Jesus was dead.

But Jesus, unlike anyone else, did rise again.  Three days after dying a brutal death, being hastily wrapped in burial cloths and laid in a sealed cave-tomb, He came back to life.  In the weeks following His resurrection, Jesus appeared to hundreds of people.  It’s a historical fact:  Jesus rose from the dead.  (HALLELUJAH!!)

And because Jesus rose from the dead, we have hope.  A secure hope in life after death.  This is the reason Jesus died, so that we could live life to the full both now and in eternity, and God raised Him from the dead to prove that we can know Him now and obtain that fullness of life.

For those of us who have lost little ones, it also gives us hope that there is life for them too.  David, King of Israel from 1010 BC to 970 BC, treasured this hope when his baby died:  ‘I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.’  2 Samuel 12.

Jesus = one more miracle, He’s not dead!

What Books Influence You?

I’m renewing my acquaintance with What Katy Did by Susan M Coolidge at the moment.  I’ve just reached the part where Katy falls out of the swing and injures her back, and Cousin Helen gives her wise advice about keeping cheerful and positive, and not grumbling which will, Cousin Helen explains, eventually drive people away.

It dawned on me that without realising it, this book has had quite an influence over me.  A couple of years ago I was ill with cerebellar ataxia and ME.  The illness wasn’t straightforward and the specialists were unable to account for all of the weird and wonderful symptoms I exhibited.  A whole variety of treatments and medications didn’t help – I could have been popping Smarties for all the good the tablets did me – and I honestly believed I would never get better and be able to lead a normal life again.  Without realising it at the time, Cousin Helen’s advice to Katy was ringing in my ears.  So I resolved never to complain and tried to maintain a positive outlook.  While friends showed great concern for Adrian and me, it was always at the back of my mind that they would soon get used to me being in a wheelchair and unable to do very much.  I didn’t want to be a negative person to be around because I was afraid that that might eventually drive them away.

Looking back, maybe this approach wasn’t particularly wise.  In my resolve not to complain, I didn’t share readily with anyone how bad the illness actually was.  It wasn’t until early October (several months into the illness) that I finally broke down and fired off a heart-felt text to a good friend about what a bad day I was having.  And what a good thing I did!  Because once she understood how bad things were, she immediately agreed with another good friend to fast and pray for a week, pleading with the Lord to heal me.  He answered their prayers amazingly, and I owe them both a huge debt of gratitude.

Who would have thought that a classic children’s book would have had such an influence?!  What book(s) have influenced you?

Are Words Powerful?

When I was at my writing group – Grace Writers – on Wednesday evening, one of my friends mentioned the power of words.  And that got me thinking….

In my previous post, I wrote that Jesus upholds everything by the power of His word.  That’s some power!  It’s not just power in creation either, the things that He taught are still used in everyday language today.  Going the second mile, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, turning the other cheek – do any of these sound familiar?  Jesus spoke these along with many other excellent teachings when He lived in first century Palestine.

The book of Proverbs in the Bible has much to say about our speech.  In Proverbs 12:18 it describes rash words as being like sword thrusts.  I guess we’ve all been hurt, sometimes deeply, by someone else’s thoughtless words to us or about us.  And I suspect we’ve all been guilty of hurting other people by our own rash words.  It can be easily done, but the damage it causes isn’t easily undone. 

By contrast, the same verse says that the tongue of the wise brings healing.  I know this to be true in my own life.  Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve felt a bit down and depressed, but someone speaks kindly or wisely and it immediately lifts you?  Last January, when God had healed me of cerebellar ataxia but I was still struggling with ME/chronic fatigue, was a dark time in many ways for me.  I knew God wanted to heal me and I experienced Him at work in my life, but it seemed as though complete healing would never come.  I was often too exhausted from the ME to be able to read my Bible very much, but every Sunday without fail the Lord would always speak to me through other people’s words of knowledge and prophetic pictures during the worship time at church.  These wise words brought hope and healing into my life and I clung to them through the week.  Some of these words continue to strengthen me and give me hope today.

The apostle James writes about the power of the tongue in James 3.  He describes it as a small fire which is able to set a great forest ablaze.  Fire can be destructive.  When I was a little girl I remember driving through North Wales with my parents during an aggressive forest fire.  Although we weren’t close to it, I remember breathing the smoky air as the fire viciously ate everything in its path.  But fire can also be a positive force for good.  We talk of people being ‘set on fire’ by powerful preaching or for a passionate cause.  Wouldn’t it be great if, by the power of our words, we set others on fire with a passion for God?

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