Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Month: April 2012

The Last Word

The last conversations we have with loved ones are precious to us.  In The Last Word, Wallace Benn unpacks Jesus’ last words before His death, from John’s Gospel, chapters 13 to 17.  Bishop Benn has a delightful writing style that enhances the devotional nature of this helpful and heart-warming book.

The book is well set out, being divided into five sections:

  • The Last Demonstration,
  • The Last Question Time,
  • The Last Gift,
  • Last Perspectives,
  • Lasting Joy.

At the very beginning, Bishop Benn whets our appetite for what is to come by asking provoking questions such as why does Christian living sometimes descend into loveless duty?  Or, why are some believers paralysed with unanswered questions?  Or, why do some Christians seem powerless and discouraged?  He assures us that these and other questions will be answered, and raises anticipation for what is to come the rest of the book – and he does not disappoint.

In The Last Demonstration, Bishop Benn opens up the significance of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.  There have been many sermons on this subject, but Bishop Benn considers what happened in a fresh way by likening it to an acted parable.  I found it particularly helpful that he linked it with Philippians 2:  Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet was a visual representation of that passage.  In this first section, Bishop Benn also looks at the reality that Christians sometimes hurt and disappoint each other, just as Peter hurt and disappointed the Lord by denying Him.  He exhorts us to acknowledge the ‘Peter’ in one other, and to be like Jesus in showing forgiveness and not giving up on each other.

The Last Question Time examines the four main questions and answers at the end of John 13 and 14, namely:  where are You going?  How can we know the way?  Show us the Father, and why show Yourself to us and not to the world?

The Last Gift Jesus gave to His Church is the Holy Spirit.  In these chapters, Bishop Benn gives a balanced view of the Person and work of the Spirit.  I think this section is best summed up in his own conclusion:

What a marvellous, wonderful, delightful, invigorating, life-giving, Jesus-glorifying, helpful last gift Jesus gave, in love, to His disciples!  May we revel in the Spirit’s ministry and not resist His prompting nor quench His activity in us.  And to Jesus, the One He delights to glorify, be all the glory and the praise.

After exciting us and giving us a taste of Heaven on earth in the first three sections, Bishop Benn then turns to the realities of living for Christ in the world.

In Last Perspectives, Bishop Benn considers how vitial it is that we abide in Christ like branches attached to a vine.  Without Jesus we can do nothing and it is vital that we cling to Him and rely on Him for everything.  We are also encouraged that God Himself chose us and appointed us to live fruitful lives that glorify Him.  Bishop Benn writes of the sometimes harsh reality of living in the real world.  If Jesus was misjudged and illtreated, His followers must expect the same.  But when we feel overwhelmed by troubles, our comfort is the same as that which Jesus gave to the first disciples:  He is preparing a place for us in His Father’s home, and He has given the Comforter who lives inside us.  Life is hard, but the Holy Spirit of Truth gives all the strength, encouragement and ability to obey that we need.

Lasting Joy explains how all Christians can experience joy.  Jesus’ final words in John 13 to 17 are all about joy.  Christians aren’t meant to be legalistic and ‘doom and gloom’ – God is a joyful God and we are to be full of joy too.  What’s not to be joyful in knowing Jesus?!

I greatly enjoyed reading this book, which opens up a familiar passage of the Bible in a new and fresh way.  I wholeheartedly recommend it.

I am grateful to Christian Focus Publications for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of writing a review.

Buried Hopes, Broken Dreams

We had to wait about twenty months on the IVF list.  During that time I became skillful at suppressing my natural desires and hopes for children.  I buried the pain deeper and deeper so that I wouldn’t have to feel it.

Our names came to the top of the NHS list for IVF in January 2006.  We attended an evening with about two dozen other couples who were about to embark on this life-changing process.  Adrian and I prayed hard, and our then pastor and his wife prayed with us, all through the process, which was much longer and more involved than we’d realised.  Every evening at 9.45 pm I carefully injected the drugs into my abdomen.  The injections – which as far as I can remember went on for about five weeks – must be done at the same time each day.  Occasionally this meant leaving an event early so that I could get home and inject myself.  If this doesn’t happen or a day is missed, the whole cycle fails.  It is only recently that I’ve stopped having recurring nightmares about missing urgent deadlines, but in the months immediately following IVF I would wake myself up in a lather looking for the medications I thought I needed to inject myself with.

God was very gracious and generous to us.  We stipulated that only two eggs should be fertilised, because we couldn’t bear the thought of any spare embryos being destroyed or frozen, and although we were warned that this greatly reduced our chances, God gave us two little ones which were transferred to me.

The Bible teaches that whenever a child is begotten (conceived), that is when you become a mother and father.  When our little ones were zygots (single-cell embryos aged one day), Adrian and I knew that we were parents.  Two new little souls were in the world and they were our responsibility.  The most natural thing in the world was to pray for them and to commit them to their Everlasting Father who was skillfully knitting them together.

When God took Two and Three on Friday 12th May 2006, I grieved for them like I’d never grieved for anyone else.  But I wouldn’t let myself consider the implications:  they were our only chance to have children of our own, and the loss was so final that I buried it deep inside along with my unrealised hopes and dreams. 

From that afternoon on, there was a ragged wound deep inside me that opened up and bled at the slightest provocation.  For the first few years I felt like a waterspout; I couldn’t sing certain songs, wouldn’t go to church if I knew particular subjects were going to be preached upon, and subconsciously tried to keep people away from the wound by never sharing my real grief and hurt with anyone.  I never even spoke about it to Adrian.  Having to give up my dreams of and for my children was hard, and I found I had little patience or sympathy with parents struggling because their children weren’t following the parents’ dreams and plans for them. 

I worked hard at putting on a good front that I was fine about not having children, so good in fact that in the end I deceived even myself.

Incomplete…?

Shortly after it was confirmed that Adrian and I were unable to have children, we had my dad’s funeral.  My mum, brother and me discussed and planned an order of service to include a potted history of my dad’s life, which I then typed up.  I still remember how painful it was to write the last paragraph:  ‘Don will be sorely missed by his wife, son and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren, and his daughter and son-in-law….’  To me, the fact that Adrian and I were only a couple rather than a family made us incomplete, and seeing it in print I felt as though the letters were in bold, underlined and highlighted with flashing lights around them.  Yet I couldn’t delete them because it was true that we didn’t have children.  Maybe that was the first time I’d glimpsed that this was reality, and somewhere very deep down inside it hurt.  

Being a couple seemed to make us inferior to people who had children.  This wasn’t the case, but it was how I felt.  It was as though, in my eyes, we hadn’t ‘arrived’ – hadn’t arrived at that mysterious place of the complete experience of adulthood.

The result of seeing my mum’s grief and the need she had of our support coupled with my own feelings of incompleteness and inferiority was a desperate desire to ‘get’ children in any way I could and as soon as possible.  Adrian and I were on the NHS waiting list for IVF, and we also began to look at and pray into the possibility of adoption.  As I said to Adrian at the time, ‘If anything happens to you I couldn’t bear to go through all of this on my own.  I want children to be able to support me the way we’re supporting my mum.’  However, because we were waiting to go through IVF we were told we couldn’t pursue adoption at that stage. 

When we were first put on the waiting list for IVF, I didn’t agree with it and had no intention of undergoing it, but neither did I feel in a fit state emotionally to announce my decision there and then.  Once I could think clearly again after my dad’s death, I intended to cancel ourselves from the waiting list.  Thankfully, I poured it all out to a Christian friend at work one day after shocking myself by unexpectedly breaking down in tears.  Her and her husband had been through IVF in the past, and she shared with me that it is possible to have control over how many eggs are fertilised.  So if only two embryos can be transferred (from the petri dish to the mother), you can request to only have two eggs fertilised.  This made a huge difference, and after praying it through, Adrian and I felt at peace about going through IVF.

Titanic: The Ship Of Dreams

‘Women, children and unbelievers to the lifeboats please!’ was John Harper’s compelling cry as Titanic went down by the head on that tragic night in April 1912.  For this Glasgow pastor, preaching was far more than a job:  talking about Jesus and His saving power was a way of life.  His message was never more urgent than that frosty night in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean when 1,517 souls were swept indiscriminately into Eternity.

Titanic: The Ship of Dreams by Robert Plant is the true story of John Harper, who boarded the Titanic with his six-year-old motherless daughter Nana (Jessica Annie).  Aimed at younger readers, the chapters are short and the storyline is gripping and easy to follow.  The story is mainly told through the eyes of Nana, as she and her friends explore the ship from end to end.  See the ship’s millionnaires, correct crew and hard-working stokers through Nana’s eyes as she and her friends trespass into first class, getting caught by John Jacob Aster and his young wife Madeline, and explore boiler rooms where stokers are busily shovelling coal to keep the engines working.  While a certain amount of fiction has been woven through the storyline, the book appears to have been well-researched and all the characters are real people who actually sailed on the Titanic.

When Titanic hit the iceberg, John’s first priority was to see his precious Nana safely into a lifeboat.  His next priority was to share the saving news of Jesus with as many of the ship’s passengers as he possibly could.  The last moments of his life are faithfully reported from eye witness accounts, who recall that he gave away his life jacket and used his last words to urge the dying men and women in the icy waters around him to get right with God before they perished.

I think this is a great book historically and spiritually for children to read.  On this hundredth year anniversary of the Titanic’s fateful maiden voyage, it is good for children to know the facts.  Spiritually, it is both heart-warming and challenging, a call to live out our faith in a real way and to realise that the very rich need the good news of Jesus as well as the poor.  I can heartily recommend this book to parents and to anyone who works with children.

I am grateful to Christian Focus Publications for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of writing a review.

For The Little Ones Whose Strength Failed

This song is for all of our little ones whose strength failed before it really began, who even now are dancing around the Throne and singing like never before.

The See-Saw of Emotions

There was a definite see-sawing of emotions going on when Adrian and I were trying for a baby.  At first, I was casual but hopeful about it.  Then as each month passed, I began trying different things to see if they would help.  I took Folic Acid and vitamins, gave up coffee, and stopped eating peanuts.  Someone said citrus fruit could hinder fertility, so that was cut from my diet.  I was advised to lie down for half an hour after intercourse with my bottom raised, and to try having intercourse in different positions.  It seems there is nothing sacred when it comes to the advice people will give you if you’re struggling to conceive – and they don’t think twice about sharing it either! 

I even took my temperature diligently each morning, making a careful note in my ‘fertility’ diary from Boots so that I could figure out when the optimal time for trying was.  Sex was no longer a loving, romantic part of our marriage – it was a drill exercise to be done on command.  It certainly wasn’t fun anymore.  And if for any reason we failed to take advantage of that crucial twenty four hour window, I stressed about it big time.  I mean, you only have twelve opportunities in a year, don’t you?  If you miss one, that really knocks your chances.  And I was getting older all the time….

There was also the increasingly crushing disappointment every month as I’d realise that we’d failed again.

It was a tough time emotionally:  putting on a strong front so that people didn’t suspect I might be getting upset about not becoming pregnant, trying to protect myself against continual heartache and disappointment by not allowing myself to be too hopeful, and pleading with God to bless us with a baby.  If I was even one day late, my emotions were instantly tied up with the tiny life I hoped against hope was inside me…. only to find out there was emptiness.  Again.

After a few years of trying, of me constantly burying my natural desires to be a mother and a lot of prayer, we visited the doctor for tests to see why it wasn’t happening for us.  We made an important agreement before making that decision, and that was that no matter what (if anything) showed up on the tests, we would not blame each other, nor would we share such intimate information with anyone else.  If you’re in a similar position, don’t feel pressured to share what’s wrong with anyone other than your partner – it’s no one else’s business, and it’s okay to keep it just between the two of you.

We received the results of our tests the day after my dad died, and they confirmed that it was, humanly-speaking, impossible for us to conceive naturally.  We were placed on the waiting list for IVF.  More about that in another post.

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