Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

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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


Slavery in the UK?

This Home Office advert has reminded me of the reality that there are slaves in the UK (I don’t mean people working for minimum wage either but actual slaves). These are people held against their will, living in harsh conditions and treated badly. It might be happening behind a ‘respectable’ front door where you would least expect it. Forced into a life of domestic servitude or prostitution or hard labour. It’s wrong and needs to be stopped. Let’s keep our eyes and ears open.

The National UK Slavery Hotline is 0800 0121 700.

I first became aware of the issue by reading a book last April called Refuse to do Nothing.

Refuse to do nothing about modern-day slavery.


My Problem, His Problem

A month after my eighteenth birthday, I qualified as a medical secretary and started working for an ENT surgeon. Mr G commanded quite a presence and I was somewhat in awe of him (I remember my hand shaking the first time I tried to take down shorthand!). Although I’d had two years’ training at college, I felt that I knew nothing. It didn’t help that his previous secretary (who’d left to have a baby) had been super-efficient with beautiful handwriting, and was respected and liked by everyone. But one thing Mr G said in my first week helped to calm my nerves and give me confidence that doing this busy and responsible job was possible.

‘If you make a mistake, don’t try and cover it up. I want you to tell me so that I can sort it out.’

In that one sentence he declared our partnership. My mistake was his mistake. He aligned himself with me – and he had the knowledge, power and experience to sort out any cock-up I might make.

What set me off thinking about my eleven happy years with Mr G, was something my pastor, Nick, said yesterday in his sermon:

God has made a covenant with us. He has committed Himself to us so that whatever affects us, affects Him. A bit like with me and Mr G, my problems become God’s problems.

Of course, our biggest problem is sin and when God chose to commit Himself to us, He had to make sure that this problem got sorted. Jesus – the Son of God – chose to become one of us so that He could pay the penalty (death) for our sin, and offer us forgiveness, freedom and peace with God in its place. Wow.

There is one condition: don’t cover it up. To get God’s help, I have to confess my sin and tell Him about my problems. It’s like it was with Mr G. Trying to cover up a mistake was pointless because not only was it likely I’d get found out but the problem wasn’t resolved. And I was left worrying about it. Hard though it could be (especially when he peered over his half-moon glasses at me), it was always better to come clean and tell him. The problem could get sorted, the situation was diffused, and I had peace of mind.

Thank You God for loving me and committing Yourself to me. Thank You for taking on my problems as Your problems, and for working them out for me. There is no God like You!



The ACW committee had our annual retreat at the weekend.  We converged on a Christian conference centre in Northampton for a full weekend of meetings, discussions, and fun. On Friday evening we relaxed with a light-hearted question and answer game. One of the questions was about a piece of memorabilia from our childhood. I immediately thought of Fred.


Fred was my best friend. He went everywhere with me, even sharing my bed at night. His tummy and paws split open in several places but my mum always managed to carefully sew him back together. Later, I practiced my own sewing skills on my little furry pal. I rushed home from school at lunchtime and at the end of the day to cuddle and play with Fred.

One day, he went missing and I had to go to school without saying goodbye. Brought up to know Jesus as a friend and as someone I could talk to in my heart, I asked Him desperately that morning to keep Fred safe and bring him back to me. I expected to see Fred when I got home, but no, mum shook her head when I burst through the kitchen door to ask if she’d found him. I sat down in the big armchair to watch Rainbow with a heavy weight in my tummy and a lump in my throat. Tears rolled silently down my cheeks as I gazed at Geoffrey, Bungle, Zippy and George larking about on the television screen. Mum renewed her search. A few minutes later a small, threadbare mouse with no tail and a tattered, chewed up nose dropped into my lap. Fred and I danced and jumped around the lounge. I couldn’t bear to part with him even to eat my lunch, so he sat proudly on the table next to my plate where I could keep my eye on him.

When I was four, my dad took my mum and me youth hostelling in Colwyn Bay with the church youth group. Fred and I loved exploring and playing in the big hostel, and sometimes Fred stayed behind on a windowsill or on the polished wooden stairs to have a little adventure all by himself. The longsuffering warden seemed to spend the entire weekend making sure Fred got back to me safely!

Although Fred will always have a special place in my heart, my first love for him was replaced long ago with more sophisticated toys, books, and human friends. He is now enjoying a quiet retirement with a handful of other tattered, furry friends, sitting on a shelf in the study.

I’m glad God treats us better than I treated Fred. I love that the relationship God offers us will never come to an end; it’ll keep getting better and better. The Father’s plan was always to adopt us simply because that is what He wanted to do, and Jesus made certain of that plan happening by dying on the cross. Although Jesus rose again and has a glorified body, He still has the scars of His brutal death. The permanency of His scars confirm the permanency of our relationship with God – He is never going to change His mind, never going to get tired or bored of us, never going to regret saving us. When we become friends with God, our position in His family is absolutely secure. He doesn’t pencil our names into the Book of Life, they are written there for all eternity!

How Not To Write Poetry

Adrian and I are going through old paperwork at the moment, looking through cards and letters we’ve sent each other as well those other people have sent to us, trying to decide what has true sentimental value and needs to be kept and what should be recycled.

More than ten years ago, I went on holiday to the Isle of Wight with my family, acting as chauffeur for my parents because my dad broke his ankle a few days beforehand. I missed Adrian and decided to write him a poem which I sent him on a postcard (see picture). With the benefit of hindsight, the postcard was a great idea. The poem maybe not quite so much.

Here I am on the Isle of Wight,
But you are out of my sight.
It’s a nice place to be –
All surrounded by sea.
Although I’m sitting in a nice bay,
My thoughts are far away.
I’m thinking of Bilbo and Jack*;
Can’t wait to come back.
But even more, I miss my man,
So I’ll come back when I’ve got a tan.

Once I recovered from hysterics over my awful attempt at poetry, I wasn’t sure which disturbed me more: the fact that I composed it in the first place or that I wrote it on a card for the postman to see!

*Bilbo and Jack were my pet guinea pig and rabbit at the time.

Growing Pains

Did you see Penguins – Spy in the Huddle on BBC1 recently?  For three consecutive Monday evenings, I was mesmerised by these entertaining creatures.  The documentary put spy cameras disguised as penguins into the middle of three colonies:  stately emporer penguins in Antarctica, funny rockhopper penguins in the Falkland Islands, and shy humboldt penguins in Peru.  I have to admit to a bias towards emporer penguins.

Both mum and dad are committed to hatching their precious chick.  Mum must pass the egg to dad before she can return to the sea to feed.  The parents practice this tricky maneouvre a few times so that the egg is not exposed to the freezing cold air for too long.  (It’s easy to tell the old hands from the new parents at this stage, and my heart was in my mouth while I watched.)  With egg safely tucked in dad’s pouch, it’s time for mum to return to the sea so she can feast on fish.  The dads stay behind, huddling together for warmth against the bitter Antarctic winds.  I mused on the fact that we can learn a lot from the animal kingdom at times.  No chance among penguins of the male getting the female pregnant and then disappearing without any sign of commitment….

Dad is in charge of hatching the chick, which he feeds from his own meagre resources.  He is literally starving by the time mum returns, looking plump and well-fed.  For all that he is desperate to get to the sea and a good feed himself, he is most reluctant to leave his chick.  In some cases, mum had to resort to pecking him to force him to go.  Such is the emporer dad’s commitment.  There I go again with that word ‘commitment’!

Mum cares for the chick, feeding it on regurgitated fish (yuck!) and endeavouring to shelter it from the ferocious storms for the next few weeks until dad returns from the sea to share the task of bringing up their little one.

The chicks in the colony become more and more independent as they grow bigger and stronger, until one day the majority of the parents leave for the sea for the last time.  After a while the chicks sense the call of the sea themselves, and start the long journey over the ice.

In the process, the chicks find areas where the ice has melted into piles of slush.  They have never before encountered a non-solid surface and falling into the icy water takes them by surprise.  They flap in a flustered sort of way, trying to get back onto solid snow.  It’s a shock to them, but it’s a good thing because it teaches them to swim so that when they finally reach the sea itself, they can confidently throw themselves into it.

Life is a bit like that.  When things are going well, we can feel all cosy and settled.  But then something happens that takes us by surprise, stretching us.  It can feel like we’ve just fallen into icy water sometimes and it’s not pleasant.  Like when Adrian was made redundant a few years ago.  I remember that cold feeling gripping my stomach as we sat in the lounge in complete silence, just looking at each other.  Or like when we were informed we could never – humanly-speaking – have children of our own, the day after my dad had died.  Or when my neighbour drives me mad with her loud television!  But these are vital growing times in our lives.   Without the tough episodes, we would end up pretty spineless and pathetic.  Redundancy taught us more than we’d ever known before of trusting God, comprehending a little more of His sovereignty, and experiencing His provision.  Losing my dad and being unable to have children has enabled me to experience at a deeper level God’s emotional healing and comfort – and now I can comfort others in the same position, understanding what they’re going through because I’ve been there.  And I’m painfully learning some patience through the trial of the television….

With God’s help, it’s possible to accept the trials (even though we don’t enjoy them at the time because they’re painful and hard) and to grow through the experience.  God is able to turn our sorrow into joy (Isaiah 61, Psalm 126, James 1, 2 Corinthians 1).


All Day Long

I watched Sir Trevor McDonald’s documentary ‘Inside Death Row’ last Thursday.  It provided some disturbing insights into the reality of a life term meaning ‘life’ and the death penalty.  I was struck by Sir Trevor’s interview with a prison barber, who was serving a life sentence for murder.  When asked how he coped with his sentence, the barber replied:

You do time a day at a time, or an hour at a time, or a minute at a time.
Whatever it takes to get through.
And then one day, you look up and 37 years have passed.

This reminded me of a Bible verse I clung to when I was ill with chronic fatigue:  ‘Lead me by Your truth and teach me, for You are the God who saves me.  All day long I put my hope in You.’  This is my journal entry for the day I read that verse:

‘All day long’ – how appropriate.  Everyone has the same amount of time but when you’re ill the days seem very long.  I deliberately choose to put my hope in God when I need to get out of bed, when I’m in the bathroom, when I’m making a cup of tea, when I’m sitting in the lounge.  Through every minute of every hour – in the highs and the lows – I choose to put my hope in God.  Why?  Because He is God.  And because He never lets me go.  And because this isn’t all there is, there is so much more to come.

Prison is prison.  You may not be in a cell with bars across the window and a door with a handle on the wrong side, maybe you have an illness or painful memories that are keeping you locked into yourself.  All kinds of things can make us feel imprisoned.  Maybe your circumstances right now are tough.  For example, my neighbour has started having her television on loudly – the only rooms where I’m not disturbed by the noise is my kitchen, which is too small to sit in, and my spare room which is full of furniture while we redecorate the lounge, having had sound proofing installed because of the noise from her television.  If I think of having to endure months and possibly years of this disruptive noise, I lose my peace of mind and feel tense, angry and despairing.  But if, each day, I purposely put my hope in God and take it one day at a time (sometimes one hour or one minute at a time if that is what is needed), I can get through.  With God’s help, today I can cope.  And I’ll try not to worry about tomorrow!

When missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham were kidnapped by extremists in the Philippines a few years ago, they had to learn the valuable lesson of coping with their ordeal day by day, hour by hour.  Martin often encouraged Gracia, ‘This time will seem so short when we are free’.

Whatever your situation, your spirit doesn’t have to be in prison.  Put your hope in God.  All day long, hour by hour, for as long as it takes.


Do you ever have nights when you can’t get to sleep, no matter how hard you try?  I do.  After yawning my head off all evening, I’ll go up to bed, and close my eyes, expectant of sleep.  Only to have my mind suddenly wake up, rushing from one thought to another:  from planning household chores for the next day to going over past situations, to praying into future ministry opportunities, to pondering tasks on my work ‘to do’ list.  I toss and turn, get up and go to the bathroom, come back to bed and try to settle down, but nothing works.  I used to go downstairs for a cup of tea, which can work, except I would get buried in whichever book I was reading at the time and end up not going back to bed until three in the morning.  Not a great way to get a good night’s sleep!

Over the last couple of years, whenever I’ve been afflicted with a sleepless night, I’ve tried going through the alphabet to find a name or characteristic for God for each letter.  I try to find a different one each time, although that can be tricky depending on the letter.  ‘Q’ is a nightmare….  I always started at ‘A’ and worked my way to the end, and found by the middle of the alphabet I’d drifted off into the land of nod, feeling happy and peaceful inside because I’d been meditating on God.  Recently, I decided to start at the opposite end of the alphabet.  That was tough.  I couldn’t think of any attributes or names of God beginning with ‘Z’ or ‘X’.  I had to get creative.

The next time you can’t get off to sleep, can I recommend my alphabet game?  It works every time for me and I never get beyond the middle of the alphabet before I drop off to sleep.  Could it be that the great enemy of our souls hates us to meditate on our wonderful and glorious God?

And I challenge you to come up with your own names or attributes for God beginning with ‘Z’, ‘X’ and ‘Q’.  Let me know what you come up with, and I’ll share what I’ve thought of!

Image used courtesy of shutterstock images at

Happy New Year!

I love New Year.  I love that there are are 365 fresh new days ahead of me.  For me, it’s a time to pause and take stock, before breathing in deep and jumping into the year ahead.  How about you?  Are you making any New Year resolutions?  I don’t tend to make them, although in 2013 I am aiming to write for at least 15 minutes every day….

2012 has been a year of lows and highs.  It began with changing from a frustrating job where I was a square peg in a round hole to working for myself as a medical secretary from home.  A bit of a dream come true!  Then there was a series of quite serious misunderstandings that I suspect God allowed into my life to teach me the necessity of pleasing God rather than man and the importance of forgiveness.  The Lord stripped away key friends who would have helped to clear up the misunderstandings, forcing me to lean on Him.  And by doing so, somehow showed me something of my worth and the value He has put on me.  When I know I am precious to God, misunderstandings – though deeply hurtful – begin to fade into insignificance.

I lived in a happy dream bubble during the Jubilee and the Olympics, revelling in all the pomp and ceremony that we Brits do so well.  I was glued to the television at certain times….  I’m sure I’m not the only person who forgot to breathe during Louis Smith’s near-perfect pommel horse routine.  I screamed when Beth Tweddle won bronze on bars and leaped around the lounge when Andy Murray won gold.  I even yelled encouragement for athletes when I had no idea who they were, but they were wearing British colours and that was good enough for me.

Our church weekend away in June was an amazing time of connecting with God in a deeper way than ever before, enjoying chilling with friends and laughing till it hurt at our crazy church cabaret.

And then in September, the Lord restored to me the final thing that had been taken from me by the illness two years ago – my work with a mission organisation.  It’s as though He has now drawn a line under that period of illness and said ‘no more’, leaving me to simply enjoy and build on all the benefits I received from that time.

And this brings me onto a verse that I’m going to take with me into 2013 from Psalm 90:

Satisfy me each morning with your unfailing love,
so I may sing for joy to the end of my life.

I love that I have a history with Jesus.  I love that I have special memories of our times together (like when I was between healings and kept saying to Him, ‘I love You’ but worried in case I was being irreverent or something.  I still remember tears welling up when He whispered to my heart, ‘I died to hear you say that’).  I love that when I was drowning in shame over the misunderstandings last spring, He had a prophetic word for me in church which replaced the feeling of shame with one of hope and comfort.  I love that recently when I’d fallen into a particular temptation yet again and was beating myself up over it, I told Jesus in despair that He could do anything He wanted with me to get this wrong thing out of my life.  That Sunday, He had another prophetic word in church for me telling me not to fix my attention on the sin but to concentrate on Him.  Always grace and gentleness and understanding.  Even when He has to be stern, He is incredibly gentle with me.  He knows how easy it would be to break me.  I love that I’m loved like that.  He is my protector against demons in the night and nightmares.  He is my healer and the one who is working tirelessly to make me whole.  I love Him.

And so, my desire and prayer for 2013 is that He will satisfy me every single morning with His unfailing love.  Because then I will sing for joy, and I want to be a joyful person for the rest of my days.  Do you know the best thing about knowing Jesus?  It will never end!  This relationship that is gradually deepening in intimacy will just get better and better and better.

What’s your New Year resolution?  I hope part of it will be to get to know Jesus better.

Royal Baby Or Royal Fetus?

Like the majority of people in the UK, indeed in the Commonwealth, I’m delighted that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their first baby.  People are excited about this new life, already discussing names and speculating on whether this little one will be a boy or a girl, even whether the Duchess will have twins!

Yesterday, I came across Denny Burk’s comments about our reaction to the news and, particularly, the fact that we are talking about a baby.  Not a blob or a fetus, but a baby.  Interesting the way our terminology changes when we consider a pregnancy and new life to be precious….

Why aren’t we calling it the ‘royal fetus’?

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