Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Month: February 2016 (page 2 of 2)

Love

It’s day ten of Lent and the word prompt is LOVE.

It reminded me of the verse that talks about keeping ourselves in the love of God, probably because I’m trying to memorise it at the moment. But it got me thinking. How do I keep myself in the love of God?

It’s rather like abiding in Christ. Sounds great. But how does it happen and what does it look like?

What is love?

When I was struggling with this a while ago, I asked Adi, ‘How do you know that I love you?’

‘Well, you tell me,’ he said, ‘You’re interested in how my day has gone. You go out of your way to do nice things for me. You’re supportive when things go wrong and I’m feeling rubbish.’

Love is words and actions.

Understanding what love looks like between Adi and me helped me begin to grasp what God’s love looks like.

At the heart of it, God’s love looks like Jesus dying for His enemies so that He could invite them to be His friends. Not that God is sad and needs us. But the Father’s heart blazes with love for the Son, whose love overflows for the Spirit, who utterly adores the Father. It was out of an overflow of red-hot, blazing love that caused God to go so such extraordinary lengths to invite me into His family.

I was nothing and He gave me worth. The Most High calls me friend.

He has given me a new heart and is growing in me love and compassion. The outworking of that is that I’ve begun to see people as He sees them. A homeless man is someone’s son. A prostitute is someone’s daughter. We are human and we have worth. Love raises up.

God gives me security.

So how do I keep myself in God’s love?

I like the way this version puts it:

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith,
pray in the Holy Spirit,
and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life.
In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.

Refuge

Today’s Lenten word prompt is REFUGE.

One of my favourite authors as a child was Patricia St John. Actually, I still enjoy her books!

Her book Star of Light tells the story of Kinza, a little girl born blind who is sold to the village beggar by her cruel stepfather but who is rescued by her older brother and taken to a missionary nurse in the city. Kinza is adopted by the nurse and goes from poverty and abuse to a life of love and security. But after a few months, the stepfather discovers where she is and secretly whisks her back to the village where he can make money from her begging. In collaboration with Kinza’s brother, the nurse travels to the village to try and negotiate with Kinza’s stepfather who denies that he has the child.

There is a beautiful scene where Kinza, who has been hidden under rugs by her stepfather, hears the nurse calling her name and cries out. At once, the nurse scoops the little girl onto her lap and holds her safe. Kinza relaxes in the arms she trusts but then begins to tremble when her stepfather starts shouting. The nurse immediately reassures her and Kinza ceases to be afraid of this horrible man who mistreats her. She has a place of refuge, in the arms of her adopted mother.

 

Mighty

Day eight’s word prompt for Lent is MIGHTY.

For me, the word mighty conjures up mountains, high seas, a knight in armour, a white charger snorting for battle.

All of these were created by the one whose name is Mighty.

On days like today when I’m tired, a bit stressed and generally out-of-sorts, I want someone who is bigger than me to turn to. I need someone wiser than me, who is never stumped or in a mood, who is always consistent and knows what to do. This Mighty One invites me to come to Him and give him my rubbish and mess so that He can give me His rightness and peace and joy. It’s a great deal.

This painting of Britain’s Lake District by my dad is a powerful reminder that my help comes from the Mighty One who created them both.

 

Go

Day seven of blogging through Lent:  GO.

‘What’s the first thing that comes into your head when I say “go“?’ I asked Adi, whose birthday is today. 21 again (plus a bit), ha ha.

He looked thoughtful.

‘Start, get on with it, do stuff.’

It also reminded him of the band OKGO who have just produced a music video Upside Down & Inside Out in a zero gravity aeroplane. So we watched it together. It’s fun.

 

Settle

Today’s word prompt is SETTLE.

Settle immediately brought to mind the American pioneers of the 1840s and later, forever moving west in search of richer land and a better life.

The American pioneers have fascinated me since first reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books as a child.

Thanks to Laura, I feel confident I could build a log cabin from scratch. Well, so long as I had a strong man with an axe to help! Pa and Ma were pretty amazing as they worked together to build the log walls for their house – this with three girls under the age of about six on the open prairie. How awful when a log fell and injured Ma’s foot. There was no doctor anywhere near, no A&E. Just water heated over a camp fire and rags to bind it up.

Then there was the long winter when their tiny town was cut off on the frozen prairie for seven long months. Blizzard followed blizzard with an occasional short break when hay and wood could be hauled in for animal feed and warmth.

Laura’s family, indeed the whole town, was in imminent danger of starvation when two young men bravely offered to find a settler several miles from town who was rumoured to have seed wheat. With no roads or map, they set off on their desperate adventure across the silent frozen prairie, praying they could beat the blizzards.

Laura’s stories of her childhood and early years as young wife have always inspired me. Especially when life has been difficult.

Adi was made redundant a few years ago and work (and consequently money) was scarce. In the midst of all the worry of ‘will we lose the house?’ and ‘how are we going to pay this bill?’ I took heart from the fact that no matter how bad it was for Laura and her family, they always won through.

So settle is in memory of those early pioneers of the American West. And also in honour of the Native Americans who lost their homes and way of life in the process.

Celebrate

Day five’s word prompt for blogging through Lent is CELEBRATE.

I’m celebrating my Father’s love. It makes me jump and sing and dance and twirl and shout. I am loved!

His love for me is overwhelming. It’s a Niagara Falls of a relentless outpouring of love. He pursues me to show me His love. It’s important to Him that I grasp it, that I know how precious I am.

He deals with my mess, He guides me, sometimes He disciplines me: He always loves me.

His love is outrageous. It’s never-ending. He’s committed to me.

I didn’t always see the Father this way. I used to think He was angry and didn’t like me very much, that I had to strive to please Him. How wrong I was!

John BentonOne of the ways the Father revealed to me who He is and what He’s really like was through my friend John. He and his wife Elizabeth announced a couple of years ago that they had decided to ‘adopt’ Adi and me. I laughed and went with it.

I nicknamed him ‘Father John’, partly because of his endearing habit of placing a hand on my head and with a chuckle saying, ‘Bless you my child.’

He brings us back sticks of rock from Skegness and is always ready with big squidgy hugs. Adi and I are welcome at their house (Elizabeth’s Sunday dinners are delicious). They have even installed a bed in their spare room so that I don’t need to drive home late at night when I visit.

Gradually, ‘Father John’ has given way to the more familiar ‘Daddy John’.

The Father has used our friendship with John (and Elizabeth) to show me the Father’s heart. The more I grasp the Father’s deep, unconditional, never-ending love, the more I love the God who pursues me relentlessly to reveal more of Himself. I love Him because He first loved me and showed me what love is.

Love looks like the Father’s beloved Son dying on the cross to take all my rubbish, rebellion and mess on Himself so that He could give me His rightness with God and bring me into His family.

Father God has become Daddy God, and so today I’m celebrating His awesome love for me.

 

Injustice

The word prompt for day four of blogging through Lent is INJUSTICE.

It’s not fair!

My life was a mess. I had a tough childhood, things were done to me, and as I got older, I reacted. I got into stuff I shouldn’t have. Nice people didn’t want anything to do with me. I couldn’t blame them. The presence of evil clung to me wherever I went. I hated being alone, my thoughts would race round in circles until I thought I was going mad. The nights were the worst. Dark presences in the bedroom that made me cower on my bed and wish I was dead. Nightmares that were frighteningly real whenever I did get to sleep. I hated my life.

And then He came.

He saw me, the real me. He was patient. He gave me time. He made me feel safe. And He wanted nothing from me. One scorching afternoon under the vines while His friends were resting, I found the courage to tell Him about my nightmares and my past. He listened. And then He asked what I wanted.

‘I want to be free.’

I wanted peace, to lie on my bed at night and feel safe, to be happy, to be free.

He smiled and placed a hand on my shoulder.

‘Be free.’

Immediately the dark, evil presences left. I felt lighter and oh what was that I felt? Joy. That was it. I broke into delighted laughter and He laughed with me. I’ve never heard a more joyful noise.

Life hasn’t been the same since. Jesus gave me peace in place of tension and joy in place of despair. I’ve had no fear going to bed since then. I’m no longer troubled by evil presences or nightmares.

And now He is being dragged through the streets as the worst type of criminal. They are going to crucify Him. It’s not fair. He doesn’t deserve this. He’s perfect.

That’s it. They’ve killed Him. This man of peace who does good and rescues people from oppression and a life of hell. He’s dead. Why? Oh God, why?

 

 

 

Featured image used with permission courtesy of Free Digital Photos and Stuart Miles.

Look

Day three’s word prompt for blogging through Lent is:  LOOK.

I’m one of those people who can’t see for looking, who frequently misses the obvious. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve embarrassed myself in shops by asking an assistant, ‘Can you tell me where whatever is please?’ only for them to point it out on the shelf directly in front of me.

A couple of years ago I went to an ACW writers’ day in Bath. I planned to get there nice and early to get the registration table set up before all the delegates arrived. I drove round and round the one-way system. My written directions and Sat-Nav both confirmed that the church was just off the one-way road I was on but I couldn’t see it. Then I spotted a church with a steeple on a hill so I exited left and drove up to it. Wrong church. Oh well. I got myself back into the one-way system and drove round for another go. Again, the only church I could see was the one with a steeple on the hill. Maybe I’d misread the name on the sign outside last time. I exited left and drove up the hill. Same name, still the wrong church.

Would you believe I spent almost an hour doing the same thing over and over again? (Maybe I shouldn’t be admitting to this so freely in public….)

CatOn the seventh or eighth attempt, I sat in my car with the church-with-a-steeple behind me and gazed out over Bath. ‘Lord, open my eyes.’ And He did. The church I needed (without a steeple) was almost opposite me, slap-bang in the middle of the one-way road I’d wasted an hour driving round and round.

Sometimes my looking is so skewed I can’t see straight. This is also true spiritually. There are all sorts of unhelpful things I believe about myself because I’m not seeing straight.

‘I’m stupid.’

‘No one ever listens to me.’ = I’m worthless.

‘I can’t…. because….’

The great thing is that God is waiting to open my eyes spiritually, emotionally and mentally as well as physically so that I can see straight. I think there are two things that run side-by-side for this to happen: I need to ask, and I need to look at Jesus. Because the more time I spend getting to know God and being with Him – gazing at Him – the more I am changed. God is the one who changes me from glory to glory, making me more like Jesus every time I look at Him.

When I look at Jesus, I see clearly because I see things from His perspective.

‘I am loved.’

‘God waits to hear me and bless me.’ = I am precious and my life has worth.

‘I can, because all things are possible for one who believes.’

Linking up with:

Missional Women

Voice

Day two of my blogging through Lent on VOICE.

There’s nothing quite like cuddling a brand new baby only a few hours old. This is my friends’ gorgeous little son Lucas. As I held him in hospital a few days ago, I marvelled at his tiny weeny fingers and toes, his cutesy little nose (he won’t thank me for saying any of this when he’s older) and his perfectly formed ears.

As I keep cuddling, feeding, and soon playing with him, Lucas will start to recognise my voice and we’ll both look forward to our visits.

But for now, there is one voice that will stand out above all others to Lucas. By twenty four weeks’ gestation, his hearing had developed and he would soon recognise the voice he heard more than any other in the womb: his mum’s. Other voices will be familiar to him too: his dad’s and his older siblings.

Now that he’s here and having cuddles with lots of different people, there are other voices Lucas is getting used to. But when he’s hungry or needs his nappy changing or is just plain upset about something, guess who will be able to soothe him quickest – mum or dad. Because it’s their voices he is most familiar with and will associate them with love and food and security.

I too have someone to go to for love and security, for everything I need. I’m learning to know His voice and distinguish it from all the other voices and influences in my life. Jesus declared that His friends hear His voice. I love His voice because He speaks truth to me that gives hope and sets free, and He gives me peace and joy.

 

Gather

Rethinkchurch has suggested a photo challenge for each day of Lent, using set words as prompts. Some of my Facebook friends and I thought it would be fun to adapt this and use the word prompts to write reflective posts. The first word prompt is GATHER.

Last summer, my friend Elizabeth and I planned a holiday together. We were excited at the prospect of having a few days without home and work commitments to talk non-stop, chill out and pray. The times we share with God are vibrant and thrilling, and we were giddy at the prospect of unhurried time with Him.

We thought we had planned that holiday and we were the ones inviting Jesus to join us.

Right.

Think again.

Sea ThistlesAlmost before we’d finished breakfast on the first morning, the presence of God fell in the room and we had to race to the loo so as to be ready for whatever He wanted to do. We realised that Jesus was the one who’d planned that holiday and He was the One inviting us to join Him.

When Jesus died, He did so willingly because of the joyful outcome He was anticipating. He is a God who gathers people to Himself and makes us His friends. A tiny part of that joy He was looking forward to was being able to invite Elizabeth and me to gather to Him for a few days in a chalet on the Norfolk coast.

 

The Lord builds up and raises us high above our status;
He gathers the outcasts –
the ones picked last for netball and hockey,
the lonely and invisible,
those addicted to social media or alcohol or drugs,
the prostitutes and trafficked,
the pimps, brothel-owners and traffickers –
Daddy God heals the broken-hearted
and bandages their wounds.
He calls us by name and brings the outcasts into His family.

My adaptation based on Psalm 147:2-6

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