Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Month: November 2014

Not Ashamed

Hood up and head down, he quickly checked the sign. Yes, he was in the right place. He slipped inside the double doors, hoping no one had seen him. Despite the friendly ‘hello’ from the lady at the reception desk, he would not make eye contact. He handed over his form and was directed through the inner doors where the smell of toasting bread and fresh coffee wafted over him. Without looking at anyone, he perched on the edge of the nearest chair and prayed his parcel would arrive quickly. But what was this? A friendly face approached and sat beside him.

‘I’m sorry,’ he blurted, ‘I’ve never used a food bank before. I’ve worked all my life. I’m not sponging. I lost my job…’

‘It’s okay.’ The face smiled.

Twenty minutes later he left with his head up. He had enjoyed homemade cake and hot coffee, he hadn’t been judged or criticised, and had an invitation to pop back anytime for a drink and chat, maybe even join the game of Scrabble at one of the tables. There was no need to be ashamed of his situation.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

She eyed the white van with lilac butterflies and Jesus is Lord printed on its side in dismay. She’d heard of these people. She kept her head well down and hoped she hadn’t been noticed. But the van stopped across from her and two friendly-looking women jumped out.

‘Hi there! Are you okay? Would you like some hot chocolate or a cheese roll?’

‘I’m not working y’know!’

Who was she kidding? Why else would she be loitering on a street corner at one in the morning? She was in her twenties but could pass for forty. That’s what a life of alcohol and drug addiction will do for you. She was too ashamed to admit she was working, too ashamed to accept their offer of friendship and sanctuary on the back of the van. Just plain ashamed.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

ASHAMED: the dictionary gives two definitions – ’embarrassed or guilty because of one’s actions, characteristics, or associations’ and ‘reluctant to do something through fear of embarrassment or humiliation’.

I guess we’ve all been in situations or done things that make us want to curl up and die of shame. I have. Times when I’ve said the wrong thing, or been manipulative, or indulged in something I wouldn’t want anyone to find out about.

AshamedOr maybe something has been done to you that has made you ashamed, even though it’s not your fault. For years, I was ashamed of the fact I couldn’t have children. It’s no one’s fault, but I still felt ashamed.

The great news is that we don’t have to stay ashamed and guilty over what we’ve done or of the situation in which we find ourselves. Regardless of what is causing us to feel ashamed, there’s a way to be rid of it. That way is a person: Jesus. When He died, He took ALL of our shame – every single bit – on Himself and it died with Him. He took our shame, and in return He gives us His purity and right-standing before God. There is nothing left for us to pay. When we accept His gift of peace and joy and righteousness, He sets us free from sin and shame. That sounds like a fabulous deal to me!

When He was a man on earth, Jesus was nicknamed the ‘friend of sinners’. He was friends with poor people. He fed those who were hungry. He healed the sick. He laid His hands on people with disfiguring skin conditions. He hung out with prostitutes. I don’t know if there were drug addicts in first century Palestine, but if there were, you can guarantee Jesus was their friend. He welcomed those who were outcasts and downtrodden, and showed unconditional love. He took their shame away because He loved them.

I love that He loves the little people like me!

God doesn’t want us bowed down with shame there is no need for us to bear. Jesus came to give us abundant life. If you know Jesus, He has already set you free from sin and shame. So believe what He says about you and say thank you!

Jesus is not ashamed of you:
He calls you brother or sister.

God is not ashamed of you:
He calls Himself ‘our God’ and He has prepared a safe, secure place for us.

I love that when I’ve screwed up yet again, God isn’t ashamed of me. He will never wish He hadn’t bothered with me, will never wonder if He made a mistake in loving me. He still calls me His child and exults in the fact that He is my God. WOO HOOO!

Linking up with Fellowship Fridays and

Womanhood With Purpose

 

Photo credit

He Rescued Me – Woo Hoo!

I will praise You enthusiastically, O Lord, for You rescued me
and did not let my enemy triumph over me.

O Lord my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me!
You brought me out of sin and darkness and
transferred me into Your Kingdom of Light.

Sing to the Lord if you know Him!
Gush over Him and give thanks for His name is Wonderful!
He isn’t angry with us, and His favour is forever.
Weeping may last through the night,
but joy comes with the morning – He has promised!

When I was prosperous and arrogant,
I thought nothing could touch me.
But then for a year I was ill – and You showed me
that it’s You who makes me secure and Your favour will never end.

I cried out to You, Lord:
What would be gained if I died?
And You showed me Your faithfulness,
These light troubles are nothing compared with the eternal weight of glory
to come.
You are my helper and my shield and my strength.

You turned my tears of sadness into such joy and gladness!
You called me out of darkness and into Your marvellous light.
How can I not sing and raise my hands to You?
How can I keep from dancing and shouting in Your presence?
I will give thanks to You, my Jesus, forever.
You are my Saviour, my Deliverer, my Hero, my Lord!

Adapted from Psalm 30. This is my testimony.

God’s Nice and He Likes Me

Last year I felt like a building that was being taken apart for renovation. Everything I thought I believed was challenged; it was as though God was stripping me right back to basics. As I said in my previous post, I had no real idea of who I was, or what God thought of me. Was I even a Christian?

God’s way of dealing with that was to remind me of the time when Moses asked God to show him His glory. God agreed, and He walked in front of Moses, saying:

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
keeping steadfast love for thousands,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
but who will by no means clear the guilty…

God wanted me to understand something important. He started with that small phrase: slow to anger.

For two weeks, the Holy Spirit kept repeating those words to me: God is slow to anger. SLOW to anger. SLOW to ANGER. SLOW TO ANGER. Then one day I realised: God isn’t angry with me.

As soon as I had got the hang of that, the Holy Spirit moved on to the phrase: abounding in steadfast love.

I struggled to accept that God loved me. I felt so worthless and unlovable that it was almost repulsive to even hint that He might love me. But He persistently repeated those words to me: ABOUNDING in STEADFAST LOVE.

Coming from a background of believing that although I was saved, I still had to earn God’s favour with an endless list of dos and don’ts, it was a monumental task to turn my thinking and accept that God loved me just because He wanted to. Nothing I could do would ever make Him love me more. Nothing I neglected to do would ever make Him love me less. As Adrian Plass is fond of saying: God is nice, and He likes me.

It was hard to take in and accept that God the Father sent Jesus to die for me because He delights in me and chose to adopt me long before creation.

ButterflyFor weeks, the truth that God loved me unconditionally – or to put it another way, He is nice and He likes me – was uncomfortable. It seemed to flitter near me, occasionally alighting for a few seconds before taking off again, rather like a butterfly briefly landing on a flower before fluttering away.

At the same time as God was using those phrases to rebuild the foundation of my life, I was devouring other passages from the New Testament. For years, I had arrogantly glossed over chapters like Romans 8, believing they had nothing to teach me. But now, my eyes were being opened and I was desperate to comprehend their powerful meaning.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,
but you have received  the Spirit of adoption as sons,
by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

The verses told me that I am a child of God. That He has adopted me. That is why I can call Him Dad (Abba). But they were just words. Although I have been a Christian since the age of ten, I had never really accepted that God is my Father and those words weren’t real for me.

In sheer desperation, I cried out: ‘Holy Spirit, it says here that You tell my spirit that I am a child of God. Please do that!’

And He did. The Holy Spirit is a wonderful Teacher. The best in fact. Ever since that desperate day last summer, He has been telling me daily that I am a child of God. Jesus’ Dad has adopted me! Jesus made it possible for His Dad to adopt me when He died so that I could be forgiven for rebelling against God and choosing to please myself instead of pleasing Him. Jesus is my Hero!

Knowing who I am – a child of God who is secure in Christ and that God has completely accepted me – has revolutionised my life. I no longer have to strive and put on a front with people. I can be myself, knowing that it doesn’t matter what they think. That is not to say that I don’t have my wobbles, but to know that I am accepted by God and that He truly loves me is more precious than anything else.

I think that calls for a bit of WOOOO HOOOO HOOOOO!!

Image used courtesy of tharkul at freedigitalphotos.net.

Who are you?

If I asked: ‘Who are you?’ how would you respond?

I could give different answers depending on who I was talking to. I remember one Christmas when I was being interviewed as part of a church service: ‘Hi, I’m Mandy, son of Don and Janet,’ I proudly announced. There was a silence before laughter erupted from the congregation, while I wondered what I’d said to cause such amusement.

Later on, I defined myself according to my job or my church ministry:  medical secretary, mobiliser, Sunday school teacher, youth leader. My security was in who I was but since I defined myself by what I did, I only felt secure as long as I had a job or ministry.

But then in 2010, I became ill and ended up losing my job. We had recently moved to a new church, so I had no ministry and the illness kept us from getting involved. I also lost long-term memories as a result of being ill. It was a scary and bewildering time. When you lose your memories, you’re not sure who you are anymore. Thankfully, God stepped in and healed me. But I still had no job or ministry and since I’d always used what I did to define who I was, I went through a confused period of feeling precious and loved because God had healed me while also feeling insignificant and without worth because I had no idea who I actually was.

This was highlighted to me when I volunteered to be part of the small reception team in the church office. Julie the team leader organised a ‘getting to know you’ lunch and suggested that we went round the circle to introduce ourselves. I panicked. The other volunteers were mostly students and all younger than me, and I didn’t want to look a middle-aged numpty in front of them. But I was completely blank. Who was I? It was getting closer and closer to me. My palms were sweating. Then the young woman sitting next to me said that she was a housewife. Oh the relief, because I fit that category too. Without looking at anyone, I softly said: ‘I’m Mandy and I’m a housewife.’ Ordeal over.

Who am IA few months after God healed me, I began working as a medical secretary again. But there was an uneasiness deep inside. I was more than a medical secretary. But who was I?

It wasn’t until last year when Penny, my pastor’s wife, gave me a sheet of statements entitled: Who I am in Christ, that I began to have any idea who I was. Penny advised me to read that sheet aloud every day.

A quick glance told me that it didn’t reveal anything new. It was all things like:

I have been made right with God.

I am a child of God.

I am tenderly loved by God.

I am chosen by God, holy and dearly loved.

These were all truths I had been taught from birth. Ordinarily, I might have cast that sheet aside thinking that I knew it. But God was dealing with some deep issues and consequently I felt fragile. So I read those statements aloud each morning.

Right from the first reading I realised I only believed about half the truths listed on that sheet. Head knowledge of many years had never dropped into my heart. The words I am tenderly loved by God and I am chosen by God, holy and dearly loved were just words, nothing more. Did God love me? Had He chosen me? He loved and chose other people, but surely He didn’t mean me?

During the following weeks and months as I read those statements of truth aloud daily and looked up the Bible verses from which they were taken, the Holy Spirit gradually dropped head knowledge into my heart.

But it wasn’t an easy process. There were tears (lots) and doubts, I was angry, I even thought I’d lost my faith for a couple of weeks. It was hard to accept that God loved me. It was a huge struggle in fact.

I was learning the hard way that if your identity is in what you do or what you have, then that sense of who you are is pretty fragile and can be lost – as was mine through the illness. Our identity must be anchored in something more secure, in something that can never fail or be lost, in Someone bigger than us.

Image used courtesy of Mister GC at freedigitalphotos.net.

Bunny Hops

I love looking after my friends’ rabbits and guinea pigs when they go on holiday. Truffles the rabbit is a regular visitor at Hotel Mandy and stays for a few weeks every summer. We are good friends now though it takes him a couple of days to settle in. At first, he is hesitant and clings to the familiar safety of his hutch. I open the door and try to coax him out, longing to fuss over him and have a game. He stares at me. Then, with all four paws firmly rooted in the sawdust, he stretches his head towards me, ready to withdraw immediately if I make a sudden movement. Soon, his front paws appear on the edge of the door and then I know it won’t be long before he jumps out and submits to having his ears and cheeks stroked (which he loves). For me, the best part is when Truffles suddenly starts racing around the carpet bunny hopping for sheer joy at his freedom.

Truffles reminds me of my friendship with God. I chose to follow Jesus while still in junior school. I quickly began serving in the church and in a Christian youth group, but I experienced no real joy or peace. If you had asked me what I believed, I would have said that God loved me and that He’d sent Jesus to die for me to take the punishment for the wrong things I had done. But what I actually believed in my heart was more: Jesus felt sorry for me and died for me but God was still angry with me so I had to work my socks off to try and earn His favour. I made life all about me rather than all about Jesus. The problem was that I didn’t really believe that God was who He said He was, or that I was who He said I was.

Thank God He loved me far too much to leave me in that state. In 2009, God led Adi and me to Grace Church where we were baptised in the Spirit. Things slowly began to change until last summer Bible truths I’d never understood before finally began to click. God has always loved me. He created me because He wanted me to be part of His Family. He isn’t angry with me. Jesus died for me so that His Dad could adopt me. I’ve been rescued out of the enemy’s domain of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son Jesus. (Woo hooo hooo!!!)

Truffles in hutchMy life with God began with me stuck in a hutch, imprisoned by the enemy’s lies. God had opened my hutch door and beckoned me out to freedom. It took thirty-odd years of me looking at God and wondering if He really was who He said He was and if I was who He said I was. For three decades it looked attractive – oh desperately attractive – but unattainable. Then I started craning my neck for a better look. Could God be trusted?

To experience God and all that He has for me, I had to make that leap out of the hutch. As soon as I believed that He is who He says He is and that I am who He says I am – that I’m His adopted daughter, a princess in His Kingdom, a joint heir of spiritual blessings with Jesus, someone He delights in and ‘woo hoos!’ over – I began to know increasing peace and joy in my life.

As I laugh aloud and love to see Truffles bunny hopping for sheer joy in his freedom, I am positive that God laughs with me and rejoices over me as I enjoy more and more of the freedom Jesus paid such a high price to give me. I relish my friendship with God and the complete security I have in Him.

 

One of Those Days…

Have you ever had one of those days? When everything that can go wrong does go wrong? I know what you mean…

A few years ago I cooked for a summer mission team running children’s events in Llandudno. It wasn’t a promising start when I went sleepwalking the first night and hid the key to the outside food store. Just slightly embarrassing to have to explain to the leader the following morning.

‘You see, I can remember holding the key in my sleep but can’t remember where I put it.’

Without so much as flickering an eyelid, he put his hand in his pocket and handed over the spare key with instructions to get a copy made. As soon as possible.

(I did find the missing key several days later carefully hidden in one of my shorts’ pockets – which were still in my suitcase.)

It was hard work and by mid week I was flagging. On Thursday morning I slept through the alarm and my team-mates getting up. I woke with a jolt to find the team gathered at the bottom of the stairs asking: ‘Where’s the cook?’

‘Help yourselves to cereal and someone put the toaster on.’ I yawned, hair sticking in all directions, modelling my tartan pyjamas from the top of the stairs.

For lunch, I decided on shepherd’s pie followed by rhubarb crumble. A member of the local church had kindly donated a large bunch of rhubarb which I thought would make a delicious crumble.

I had a busy morning putting on potatoes to boil and cooking minced beef with chopped onions and carrots in a huge pan. I filled some large baking tins with the shepherd’s pie and popped it in the oven. No need for extra veg I decided.

Meanwhile I turned my attention to the rhubarb crumble. My fingers worked the flour, butter and sugar together to make a crumble mix of which Mary Berry would be proud. The rhubarb was on the hob; I forgot it needs very little cooking. I stared at the stringy, watery mess in dismay and cast my eyes around the kitchen for inspiration. There wasn’t enough time to start again. Aha! A spare bag of currants tucked away on a shelf. I stirred them into the rhubarb in the vain hope they would soak up all the water and provide a delicious fruity base for my pudding. Hmm. Not quite. I scooped the whole soggy mixture into oven dishes, covered it with crumble and went to put it in the oven.

Oh. The oven was already full with the shepherd’s pie.

Ah well, I decided, when the serving team dished up the main course, I would hastily shove the crumble in the oven on a high gas mark so it could bake while we ate.

It was not a lunch to be proud of. Guess who’d got her quantities wrong? The tiny helpings of shepherd’s pie looked sad and lonely in the middle of the great white dinner plates.

‘Can we have seconds?’ asked the ever-hungry teenage lads after clearing their plates in two bites.

‘Um, sorry, that’s all there is.’

They stared at me in disbelief.

‘But I’ve made you homemade rhubarb crumble!’

The hungry team cheered up. Until pudding was served. They stared in wonder at their bowls. It looked as though we’d been served hard packed sand with seaweed and rabbit droppings. Not my best effort.

The chip shop down the road did a roaring trade that lunchtime.

Cartoon Chef

‘I’ll cook pizza for tea to make up for lunch.’ I recklessly promised.

I fully meant to have sizzling tomatoey-cheesy pizza ready for when they came in from the afternoon’s beach event.

‘I’ll just have a sit down for a minute.’ I woke up nearly two hours later, with only twenty minutes to make and bake pizza.

I raced into the kitchen in a panic, seized a sharp knife and began chopping onions. And my finger.

‘Aaaagghhh!’ I’m not sure if it was a yell of frustration or a cry of pain. I dropped the knife, ran to the sink and held my now-bleeding-profusely-finger under the cold tap. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t stop bleeding long enough for me to leave the sink and get to the first aid box, and I didn’t want to drip blood all over the floor.

What a relief when one of my team-mates walked through the door. Good old Bryn, he’d come back early to see if I needed any help. Within minutes, he’d bandaged my finger, sat me down with a mug of tea, and finished prepping the pizzas.

Amazingly, tea was only a few minutes late. And everyone left the tables full.

Image used courtesy of basketman at freedigitalphotos.net.

 

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