Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

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Not What I Expected…

This wasn’t supposed to happen. How did I end up here?

I lay on my back, staring at the ceiling, my face deadpan, counting in my head until he had finished. He was my twelfth customer of the day.

I hated what I was doing but there was no choice. He had made that clear. ‘If you don’t do as you’re told, I will kill your family.’ It made me feel sick and clammy.

My parents thought I was on my way to the UK to work in a hotel. They had been so excited. There were no career opportunities in my village, it was too small. And I’d always wanted to learn English. It made me feel so grown up and sophisticated when that man came and interviewed me. He was so charming, showing me photos of where I’d be working and assuring my parents that he would accompany me so I’d be safe.

Safe? Ha. That was a joke. If only….

There was no job and no hotel. Just a bunch of other girls naively hoping for a better life.

He took away our passports and gave each of us a small room with a bed in it. This is where we work and where we sleep. There are four of us in this house. I seem popular with the customers, so I earn lots of money. Not that I get to keep any of it.

This is not what I expected. Will I ever get free? 

 

Last weekend I was at an ACW writers’ retreat at Scargill House in North Yorkshire, hosted by Adrian and Bridget Plass with Tony Collins of Lion Hudson and Monarch Books as main speaker. Tony gave us a challenge to write about a journey. So I wrote it from the point of view of a young woman trafficked to the UK from Eastern Europe. Although it is fiction, this actually happens.

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.

 

Ron

On Sundays Ron was usually at the church door, waiting to welcome people with a firm handshake and shy smile. He worked wonders with the old boiler, knowing just how to coax heat from it, so that we could enjoy warm radiators during the sermon in winter. No one else was ever quite able to manage it. When he was away for a six-week-world-holiday-of-a-lifetime,  we shivered our way through meetings huddled in coats and scarves. Oh the relief when Ron The Master Boiler returned and we had a warm building once more.

Ron arrived early on Sunday mornings to turn on the electric heaters in the cold, damp rooms we used for Sunday School so that when the teachers and children turned up, the rooms were toasty and welcoming. Before leaving, he made sure the timers were set on those self-same heaters to ensure they came on in good time for the pre-meeting prayer time in the evening.

When my keys refused to work in stiff locks, Ron was my go-to guy. Even in the pouring rain, he gave every appearance of being happy to help.

He took charge of filling the baptistery with a hose pipe whenever it was needed (doing his utmost to ensure the water was warm), made tea and squash for holiday Bible clubs and Bible exhibitions, and collected up hymn books and newssheets at the end of the service.

Dependable and stolid, faithfully getting on with the next thing, contentedly chewing his mints, an amused chuckle, twinkling eyes, a well-worn Bible: these are my memories of a special man.

Mine!

One of the many things I love about Jesus is the way He completely identifies Himself with me. Regardless of the cost to Himself, He has always been determined to show me the depth of His love.

You’ve got to really love someone to be crucified. It was one of the worst forms of execution ever devised with the victim nailed in place unable to move hands or feet, severely cramping muscles, slowly suffocating to death in agony. Jesus was perfect – even Pilate and Herod couldn’t find that He’d done anything wrong during His trials. But knowing it was the only way that I could be rescued from darkness and oppression and transferred into His Kingdom and adopted by His Father, Jesus was willing to be crucified. Not only was there the physical pain to contend with, public execution was shameful. If you’ve ever been told off by your boss in front of others or shouted at in the classroom by a teacher, you can appreciate a little of what Jesus went through. People being crucified were fair game for the general public to mock and laugh at, and Jesus had to face that. His very identity was challenged by the mockers. That’s hard to take. He suffered rejection – many of His closest friends stayed away; even His Father had to turn away when Jesus became sin so that I could have His purity. On the cross, He was silently showing everyone that He loved me, basically saying: ‘She’s mine!’

Jesus identifies with me in the spiritual realm. When I chose to follow Him at the age of ten, His Father transferred me out of the domain of darkness and into Jesus’ Kingdom. I didn’t appreciate what that meant until a couple of years ago. I had been plagued with demonic nightmares and unwanted presences in the house for several years. At first I put it down to imagination but my pastor and his wife realised it was far more than my imagination. They came and prayed round the house with Adi and me, and all of that darkness was forced to go because Jesus is mightier than any occult powers. Because Jesus has identified Himself with me, marked me as His own and given me His authority, demonic forces have to take notice and leave. They don’t have a choice because Jesus is the King.

Diamond RingI don’t need to worry about Jesus getting bored of me or changing His mind. My name is engraved on the palms of His hands – that sounds pretty permanent! He has also promised that one day, He will proudly present me before His Father with exuberant joy, and He will announce to His Dad and to all the angels: ‘Mandy is mine!’

When Adi asked me to marry him, he gave me a diamond ring. The cost was less than £50. But it marks me as his wife, I belong to him and he belongs to me. The Bible says that I, along with the whole Church, am being prepared as a beautiful bride for Jesus. He has given me His Spirit as an engagement ring. The cost to Jesus was His life. The Holy Spirit marks me as belonging to Jesus, and He belongs to me.

WOO HOO for a fantastic God!

Linking up today with Claire Musters, Helen Murray and Ros Bayes.

 

 

I couldn’t love anything more…

I love the film Father of the Bride with Steve Martin. A scene that has come to mind time and again this week is one where the father George buys his daughter Annie and her future husband a quality cappuccino-maker as a wedding present.

(Up to this point, George has struggled mightily with the cost of the wedding, never mind the thought of giving away his only daughter. In the preceding scene, George has a wake up call after being arrested for a public meltdown, and is now doing everything in his power to make the wedding plans go well and to show Annie how much he loves her.)

Back to the scene:

After receiving the gift Annie turns to her dad with adoring eyes and says: ‘I couldn’t love anything more’. She is clearly happy with the gift, but she is also revealing her feelings for her dad. She loves him. As she goes off to show everyone the cappuccino-maker, George – as narrator – says: ‘My feelings exactly’.

Did you realise that that is how God feels about us? He says of us, ‘I couldn’t love anything more’.

The first time I realised this was eighteen months ago. God had been doing a lot of very necessary demolishing and rebuilding work in my life, and He relaid my foundations by revealing Bible truths I’d never properly seen before. When I read Jesus’ prayer in John 17:  ‘You… loved them even as You loved Me’, I actually texted a good friend to ask her if that was true. I was so astounded. Isn’t it amazing? To think that God the Father loves me as much as He loves Jesus. Wow! That is completely mind-blowing! WOOO HOOO!

Just like in Father of the Bride, God has given me a gift – an eternal and abundant life of being friends with Him. This gift is the most expensive present ever. It cost far beyond billions of pounds – it cost the very life-blood of Jesus, God’s only Son. And now He looks at me with eyes full of love and says of me: ‘I couldn’t love anyone more’.

Barbie Swihart

Sandra Heska King - Still Saturday
Faith Along the Way

Picture credit

Keep Reflecting The Son

A minute felt like an hour, an hour like a day. A day seemed like an eternity. The nights were even longer – dark, lonely, slightly alien.

When I was ill, time seemed never-ending. By lunchtime, I had completely forgotten breakfast, and by mid afternoon, the morning seemed to belong to another day in the far distant past. And night was another creature entirely. The night had a strange feeling all of its own, as I wandered aimlessly from room to room in the darkness, peering out of windows – was anyone else awake at this unearthly hour? Oh, the relief when dawn finally began to break in silver streaks across the sky!

Through it all, I don’t recall losing sight of the fact that God was with me and that He was in control. He was the One who, on my weakest days, gave me strength to breathe and faith to keep trusting that He was working it all out for my good. I didn’t think I would ever get better; I assumed I would always need a wheelchair when out and about, and was accepting my ‘new normal’ of being physically and mentally restricted. As my body and mind disintegrated, my hope in God grew stronger. He was my strength. There were tough moments when I felt I couldn’t go on, times of sobbing out the pain and distress to Him, of grieving for the life I’d lost, but He never let me go.

I didn’t know when the night-time of my illness would end but I trusted God to keep working in me, using the circumstances to make me more like Jesus. And then one wonderful day, dawn began to break in my life as God broke through and dispelled the illness.

As the moon reflects the sun, God promises the same for His children. It is the Father’s deep desire for us to become more and more like Jesus. He often uses the night-time circumstances of our lives to do extensive work in us. I look back over my life and see how I grew in God through various horrible things happening that I would never have chosen for myself but which my loving Creator used for my good.

ClockThe endless wait of a life-saving organ transplant for my dad who was slowly dying before my eyes.

The heartbreak of a close relationship ending.

The news that we could never have children.

Long-term illness.

Maybe you can identify with some of these.

Perhaps it feels that dawn will never come, that your night – whatever that means for you – is never going to end. But it will end and dawn will come. The darkest hour is just before dawn, but dawn is coming. The moon shines most clearly and brightly against a dark sky. It keeps reflecting the sun, even during the longest night (which is coming up in a few nights’ time). Be encouraged to keep trusting God. It is a choice and one that only you can make. Keep trusting Him so that all His loveliness can be reflected in your life.

Keep reflecting the Son.

Linking up with The Sunday Community.

 

Clock picture credit: freedigitalphotos.net and Suat Eman.

God Still Does Miracles!

Four years ago, I didn’t know how to deal with the (completely flat) paving in this photo. The different coloured bricks were confusing: should I step over them? If so, how high did they go? Should I walk round them? I felt as though I was on a tightrope and might fall off at any moment. It was all too much, my brain gave up, and my longsuffering husband had to come and rescue me.

Crazy Paving P&RTwo weeks ago, I parked the car and jumped out, walking briskly across the car park to catch the park and ride bus. In my memory, the bricks were very jazzy and – even four years on – I half blamed the council for laying such a busy pattern. But in reality, the pattern is gentle and not jazzy at all. The pedestrian area is spacious.

I sat on the park and ride bus in a daze. It hit me just how ill I’d been, that I couldn’t cope with such a simple, non-intrusive pattern. And my heart overflowed with thankfulness at God’s kindness and generosity in healing me.

Last Sunday, I had a wonderful opportunity to share the five minute version of my healing testimony at St Mary’s in Leamington Spa. Listen here.

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.

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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