Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Author: Mandy (page 1 of 32)

Journey

We were on our way to the ACW weekend at Scargill House. I had picked up my friend Helen in good time that morning and we talked non-stop as I drove north on the M1, enjoying catching up after only ‘seeing’ each other on Facebook for the last year.

We decided to stop for coffee at Woolley Edge services. Still plenty to talk about over coffee and cake in Costa.

I knew we needed to join the A1M for a time before coming off at junction 47 for Harrogate. With this in mind, we headed out of the service station.

For some reason we were convinced we were on the A1M and Helen started counting off the junctions. We came to junction 47 and I drove up the slip road. There were no signposts for Harrogate which was puzzling.

After a couple of turns on the roundabout trying in vain to find a sign saying ‘Harrogate’, we decided to get back on the motorway. I was certain we had come too far north by mistake so headed south.

Thank goodness Helen had the map and a clear head. She figured out we were on the wrong road, travelling in the wrong direction, and redirected me.

We laughed over our silly mistake, and carried on chatting about more important things such as writing and faith and family. We eventually arrived safely at Scargill, ready for a great weekend.

Partly as a result of my encouraging (literally putting courage in me) conversations with Helen, I took the plunge that weekend and not only did the writing task set by our speaker Tony Collins but also read out what I had written. Although this was my fourth visit to Scargill, I had never had a go at the writing task before, let alone had the courage to read out something I had written.

We set off for home, determined not to go wrong. After all, we had both been to Scargill several times. How hard could it be?

We made it all the way to the M1 safely.

But so busy were we, chatting and comparing notes of our weekend, we never even saw the junction for Helen’s home in Chesterfield. We overshot by two junctions before realising we’d done it again….

But when I look back on that weekend, I realise it was as much about the journey as it was about the conference. Helen and I shared life’s trials, disappointments and encouragements together in my car and over coffee. There were little triumphs to rejoice over, and niggles to pray in to.

In writing and in life, let’s not rush to get to a destination. The journey is an important part of the process.

 

This post was first published in the Winter 2016 edition of ACW’s Christian Writer.

 

Love

Seven years ago, I had a chronic illness that was worsening despite the best efforts of the medical profession. I wondered if I was in the valley of the shadow of death. It felt like my body was beginning to shut down and there was little hope, physically speaking.

But then I had a significant breakthrough healing, followed a few months later by Jesus meeting with me and completing what He’d started. It was just me and Him in my living room, when He restored my health.

I’d made the decision to follow Jesus as a child but I didn’t really begin to comprehend His love for me until He healed me. I was stuck in a hopeless and, at times, very dark situation that I couldn’t get out of. My best efforts on my ‘good’ days got me nowhere and mostly made me worse. No one was able to help.

But Jesus came to my rescue.

I will always be so thankful to Him. He gave me back my life – and this time with a new sparkle in my eyes because I know He loves me. I no longer just believe it with my mind. It has become a reality in my heart, something I experience.

For me, the illness and healing are a physical picture of what Jesus had already done for me spiritually.

My soul wasn’t dying, it was dead. I was alienated from God. I was a good child, but just like a corpse can’t help itself, I couldn’t help myself. I was in a hopeless situation.

But the Father loves me. In fact, He loves me the same way He loves Jesus. I was dead, but He brought me to life. He dealt with the baggage that I’ve collected since conception: bad thoughts, wrong reactions, rebellion, white lies, etc, etc. 2,000 years ago Jesus took all my baggage on Himself when He died on the cross, paying the full price for my wrongdoing and in exchange giving me His goodness instead.

This is real love—not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
1 John 4:10

What is love?

Love looks like a King dying for His rebellious subjects so that they don’t have to pay for their wrong thoughts and actions, and to make them royal sons and daughters.

I love this song, written and performed by a friend, Chris Barton: This is Love

Rest

Rest Spidergram

Today’s word is rest. This spidergram shows what gives me rest.

Joyful

Joyful is today’s word for the Lent word-a-day challenge.

Joyful?

I don’t feel joyful.

It’s awful seeing terror attacks anywhere but when it’s on your turf it’s somehow so much worse. London is my capital city. This is my country, these are my people. We have been violated.

The media reports leave me cold, empty and sick.

Only a month ago, Adi and I were right there. ‘I’ve never seen Scotland Yard,’ I said. We stood outside and took photos, before wandering past Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster. Only a month ago.

How can someone plough into school children? How can someone think deliberately driving into fellow human beings is right? Stabbing, killing, maiming, destroying. Oh God, oh God.

I’m hollow inside for those who’ve died, for their families and friends. Life can never be the same.

And the wounded. ‘Catastrophic’ was the word used by reporters. Great damage and suffering being caused. Life has forever been changed for a handful of people today.

Eye witnesses, MPs, tourists and visitors, emergency services: no one involved remains unscathed.

Wednesday 22nd March 2017 began like any other day and ended in tragedy.

Where do I go from here?

I flicked the pages of my Bible and turned up this passage which seems strangely relevant today. This is where my joy and hope lie:

 When the oppressor is no more, and destruction has ceased,
and he who tramples underfoot has vanished from the land,
then a throne will be established in steadfast love,
and on it will sit in faithfulness… one who judges and seeks justice
and is swift to do righteousness.

 

Go

‘Go’ is a small word with potentially explosive results. It’s like the ripple effect of tossing a pebble in a lake.

Naaman was told by the prophet to go and wash in the Jordan River to be healed of leprosy. It seemed a silly, almost insulting, instruction but when Naaman came down off his high horse (literally and figuratively), and did what he was told, God miraculously healed him.

Moses repeatedly went in to Pharaoh with the request: ‘Let my people go.’ Pharaoh ummed and aahed and faffed about, and flatly refused. God sent increasingly nasty plagues until eventually the stubborn, arrogant king agreed to let God’s people go.

Ruth, whose story I’ve been reflecting on recently, showed intense loyalty and love to her mother-in-law when she declared: ‘Where you go, I will go….’ And thank God she did, because she is one of Jesus’ ancestors.

Jesus told the famous story of the Good Samaritan and encouraged His original listeners to ‘go and do likewise’ in terms of being a good neighbour.

Another famous statement of Jesus’ is the one He made shortly before going back to His Father, to ‘go and make disciples of all nations…’ It’s His heart’s desire that every Jesus-follower should so overflow with passionate love for Him that wherever we go, we will share the good news of God wanting a relationship with us and being willing and able to deal with all of our baggage.

Afraid….

I was a scared, wimpy sort of child. Almost as far back as I can remember, I was afraid.

In the days when petrol stations closed on bank holidays (yes, I’m that old!), a four-year-old little girl in pig tails was afraid of the ancient church minibus running out of petrol when my dad took the youth group hostelling.

If my infant school teacher was away and my class was overseen by the fearsome Miss Plummer from class five who slapped the legs of naughty children, I was fearful.

During the six week holidays before going up to secondary school, I prayed frantically for the Second Coming to happen so that I wouldn’t have to go to the new school.

As I got older, my fear increased. I tried to keep it hidden; people often think ‘quiet’ is ‘good’, when sometimes ‘quiet’ means ‘afraid’.

I was scared of spiders, not being near a loo in a strange place, of being attacked, of being rejected, meeting new people, dancing in public, etc, etc. I actually had secular counselling in my early twenties for a spider phobia that was getting out of hand.

But then in 2013, God happened 🙂

We had an extraordinary move of the Spirit at church. As a direct result, I underwent prayer counselling and deliverance ministry. One of the many things from which God set me free was fear. One morning, a couple of trusted friends and I prayed for the spirit of fear to leave me, and it did. That evening in a prayer meeting, God gave me joyful laughter which filled up all the empty spaces left by fear (talking belly laughs and snorts, rolling around helplessly on the floor).

Since then, there has been no more fear of spiders. Before, I couldn’t even look at a drawing of a small spider and if I saw one through the television I’d have to close my eyes or – preferably – leave the room. I’d shake and sweat. Since God delivered me from fear, I can touch pictures of spiders and deal with eight-legged visitors around the house myself. No more shaking or sweating.

ToiletI’m learning that God can be trusted with my needs, which means – in part – no longer worrying constantly about whether there is a loo nearby.

I’m free now to raise my arms and dance in worship in church. Who cares if I have no rhythm? God loves exuberant worship spilling out of a thankful heart.

God has accepted me and calls me daughter. I know I go on about that a lot on my blog but it’s because knowing who I am has made such a difference. Being accepted by God takes away the fear of being rejected by people. It’s a process and one I’m still working out with Him.

There’s no God like Him. I’ve got the biggest smile on my face and happy tears in my eyes typing this, because I am loved. God has given me joy in place of fear. How can I not love Him?

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7

Celebrate the Seasons

You have made the seasons:
winter, summer, autumn and spring.

I live them each day of the year;
praying for a heat wave
(of which we Brits have had enough after one day),
and longing for snow each December.
Every season following the last,
because You have promised that summer and winter, springtime and harvest will never cease.

You have made the seasons in my life:
winter, summer, autumn and spring.

An autumn of pruning, a laying down of ministry,
quiet time to wait on You.
There is beauty to be seen even in the shedding.
A winter of waiting, of chronic illness,
the bleakness of no ministry, no fruit, loneliness,
what’s my purpose?
Then a spring of fresh hopes cherry blossoms on a tree,
For me it was a spring of healing,
of new dreams and possibilities.
Summer fulfils the promise of spring,
new ministry, fruitfulness,
a sense of being Your workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.
Not boring, religious stuff either.
But adventures with Jesus, growing in faith,
laughing for joy that I’m Your daughter!

I celebrate the seasons Lord,
You have given a time for everything.

Rahab’s Journal: Beloved

I’m a grandma!

Almost as soon as they got married, Ruth was with child. The baby arrived last night. Oh I’m so happy! And Naomi, you’d think he was her firstborn son, she’s so thrilled. Old age has dropped off her since holding this little one in her arms.

All our friends and neighbours are celebrating with us. The women suggested the baby’s name: Obed. It means servant or worshiper. It’s a good name and sums up Boaz and Ruth’s marriage. They are both lovely, servant-hearted people who worship God. I pray their son will be just like them.

How far we have come as a family….. God rescued me from the ruins of Jericho and sex work. My beloved Salmon had the courage to make me his wife. Not many men would have done that. And we have had a long and satisfying marriage.

Then came our Boaz, who is now husband of Ruth and abba of Obed. I’m so proud to call this kind man of integrity my son.

It’s rare in this culture for a Jew to marry outside of their own people, yet both Salmon and Boaz have done so. I wonder if it is a sort of foreshadowing of what Elizabeth used to tell me, of God’s promised Deliverer one day bringing salvation not just for the Jews but the whole world. I look into the innocent eyes of my beloved grandson and wonder when the Deliverer will come….

Rahab’s Journal: Speak

Oh thank You Lord! Thank You!

Boaz spoke with Jethro at the town gate this morning. Jethro, for whatever reason, isn’t able to marry Ruth. So, in front of a quorum of the town elders, Jethro formally relinquished his rights and Boaz declared his intention of marrying her.

Oh praise God! I am so delighted. I cannot imagine a better daughter-in-law than Ruth.

And Naomi, oh bless her. She thought God was bringing her back to Bethlehem empty and has been struggling with sorrow and bitter disappointment. But now she can see His hand of blessing in her life once more; I guess we are free to call her Naomi again now!

No more bitterness. Boaz has spoken and now there is joy all round. We have a wedding to plan.

 

Rahab’s Journal: Presence

Boaz burst into the house this morning in such a state! I’ve rarely seen him like this.

He had been working late threshing the grain and decided to sleep in the barn. He frequently does this at harvest-time, it’s such a busy period on a farm. This year has been no different.

‘Boaz, be calm. What has happened?’ I asked him, sitting him down to bread and olives. Whatever had excited him, he needed to eat.

‘Oh ima, you’ll never believe it. I worked late last night as usual. When it got too dark to see, I ate supper and went to sleep. Around midnight I woke up. There was a presence in the barn with me, a woman lying at my feet.’

At this point he stopped, almost overcome with emotion.

‘Go on,’ I said, refilling his cup.

Boaz took a breath.

‘I asked who was there. And her reply…. Oh ima, it was Ruth.’

‘Ruth?’ I smiled to myself. This sounded like one of Naomi’s ideas.

‘She’s so wonderful ima. When I spoke to her in the fields weeks ago, I praised her for coming under the wings of the God of Israel for protection. Her eyes lit up at the time, it must have meant something to her. Last night she asked me to spread my wings over her.’

I gave a little gasp and reached for a linen to wipe my eyes. Ruth must really love and respect my son for her to ask him to marry her. This marriage will be a demonstration of God’s covenant love with His people. She’s taken hold of God’s kind heart not only toward His people but to strangers and outsiders.

‘What did you answer?’ I said.

‘I couldn’t get over how amazing she is, that she would ask me. Ima, I’m so much older. Yet she hasn’t run after a young man. I’ve loved her since I first saw her gleaning in my fields but kept it hidden because I didn’t think for one second I could ever hope for a relationship with her.’

‘Why not?’

‘This is a levirate marriage. Whoever marries Ruth must give her children to carry on her dead husband’s name, and must be someone within the family. Jethro is closer kin to Naomi than I.’

‘Oh.’ Even after all these years, I still come across customs in this culture that are new to me.

Boaz got up. ‘I’ll go and wash and change, and then I’m off to meet with Jethro and the town elders. I promised Ruth I’d get it sorted today.’

I pressed my hands together. Oh what will happen? Please Lord, work this out for Boaz and Ruth.

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